Housing Winner / 2013

TRUST South LA 2050: Affordable Homes Sustainable Neighborhoods

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by TRUST South LA (Tenemos que Reclamar y Unidos Salvar la Tierra-South LA)

TRUST South LA is building a model for sustainable living in LA in 2050, with a bold plan to make better use of the 3000 acres of underutilized land in South LA, which can be replicated throughout the City. We are working to create affordable homes for our local families, placing land under community control, and building green, healthy neighborhoods. As a grassroots community organization, TRUST South LA is committed to building a vibrant South Los Angeles. We believe that how we use land -- and who controls that land -- has deep implications for the future of our City, our nation, and our planet. TRUST South LA was born from our community’s long struggle against displacement of working-class families, as property values and rents have risen in the neighborhoods south of Downtown LA, near the University of Southern California (USC) and around the new Expo Line. We value community ownership, responsible development, transparency, and the development of grassroots leadership. Over 40% of South LA households earn under $25,000 per year. In fact, 80% of our residents earn below the City’s median income. Clearly, we need economic development to increase people’s income levels, but we also need creative strategies to increase the amount of affordable housing available to these families. The majority of households in South LA can afford between $450 and $750/month for housing costs. Rents in our neighborhoods currently range from $900/month for 1 bedroom units, to over $1,600/month for a 3- or 4-bedroom home. There is an enormous gap between what our families have to spend on housing, and the actual cost of that housing. The result of South LA’s severe affordable housing shortage is that many families are being driven out of our neighborhoods, or they are forced to double-up in existing homes, causing conditions of crowding that are emotionally stressful for adults and children alike. This situation has been exacerbated since the economic crisis has driven up foreclosure rates, and many of those properties are subsequently acquired by real estate speculators. Here is TRUST South LA’s plan to protect our community from the threats of rising housing costs, deteriorating housing conditions, increased housing speculation, and displacement: 1) Purchase foreclosed homes that are on 5,000+ square foot lots, in the same neighborhood, and place the land into TRUST South LA’s community land trust. 2) Add a second 2- or 3-bedroom, 1200 square foot home on to each lot, utilizing high-quality, well-designed manufactured housing – taking advantage of existing State laws and local regulations to build these ‘backyard homes’, and cutting land costs in half. 3) Transfer the homes into a limited equity housing cooperative, through which the tenants collectively own their homes, while the land continues to be held under the stewardship of our community land trust. 4) Make the entire neighborhood more livable by working with the residents, their neighbors and other partners to advance street improvements for bikes and pedestrians, and to add more green and open space. Funding from LA2050 will support a demonstration project for resident-controlled housing in South Los Angeles that will be affordable to low-income households. The award will enable TRUST South LA to purchase and to rehabilitate six existing single family homes, and to add a newly constructed units on the same parcel, yielding permanently affordable homes for 12 families – housing 60-72 people by the end of the one year pilot phase. However, most importantly, our goal is to create a model that can be replicated throughout South Los Angeles and other parts of the City, with a demonstration that will draw the attention and confidence of City and State policy makers and funders.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

TRUST South LA works to establish community control over economic resources. We acquire land to be held collectively, and in perpetuity, by low-income community residents. Thus the land will never be subject to speculative real estate activities, industrial practices that compromise health, or slum housing practices. Use of the land will instead be directed by – and forever controlled by – low-income community residents, to meet the needs of their families and neighbors.

Important achievements include: Maintained a formal, voting Membership of grassroots community residents to hold ultimate authority over organizational assets and decisions, and to elect a grassroots Board of Directors.

With partners, raised $5 million in equity from private and public sources for land acquisition.

With the City of LA, secured: $1 million for pedestrian improvements, in a high-traffic near an elementary school; and $5 million for development of a 4 acre park in LA’s most park-poor Council District.

Led the Housing Working Group of United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD) Coalition Housing Working Group during the Lorenzo community benefits agreement and USC Specific Plan campaigns, which resulted in over $20 million in funding for affordable housing, 4000 new beds of student housing, and a tenants’ rights legal clinic at USC.

With the City and non-profit developer Abode Communities, advanced plans to develop the 7 acre Slauson&Wall Brownfields site with a 4 acre park, community center, and 120 affordable homes – all designed by the community.

Established a vibrant Slauson&Wall Neighbor’s Organizing Committee to move forward all planning, community engagement and campaign work related to this transformative project.

Used Theatre of the Oppressed as a community education and advocacy tool, including utilizing street theatre to explain dynamics of gentrification around light rail.

Organized a tenant-led campaign that resulted in the owners’ agreement to sell the 48 unit, 2 acre Rolland Curtis Gardens property adjacent to USC and the Expo line, rather than displacing families to convert to student housing; and conducted a participatory planning process to rebuild as a key Transit Oriented Development with affordable housing for 140 families, bike and care share programs, and community-serving commercial uses.

Brought CicLAvia to South LA, opening up the streets for thousands of people to use as recreation space, for walking, biking, running, skating, and simply hanging out – as a step in TRUST South LA’s growing mobility work which seeks to better utilize public land to serve local families.

Initiated Ride South LA mapping projects as community advocacy tools, to demand equitable bike/pedestrian infrastructure investment in South LA.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Real Estate Development Partner – East LA Community Corporation: ELACC has developed 360 affordable housing units in East LA, organizes community residents to advocate for change, and provides homeownership counseling. TRUST South LA has initiated negotiation of an MOU with ELACC, anticipating that we will share a project manager who will be responsible for acquiring sites, and managing rehabilitation and new construction.

Manufactured Home Supplier – Next Step: The Next Step is the first and only national strategy to bring high quality, Energy Star factory-built homes to nonprofits nationwide. By aggregating demand for the factory built housing industry, they are able to pass on a bulk discount to TRUST South LA.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Success will mean: We have proven the efficacy of the development prototype (two units per lot, blending rehabilitation, and new construction);

We have successfully advocated for (a) policy reform that creates greater certainty around the land use and entitlement processes for “backyard homes” and (b) new public and private capital sources to leverage for future phases of development;

We have tested the market to demonstrate that there is a demand for resident-controlled housing;

We have begun to redefine the policy framework around single family foreclosures to establish a systematic approach to stabilizing neighborhoods, that is both subsidy-efficient and affordable in the long-term.

We expect to achieve these specific outcomes:

(1) 12 homes which are affordable to South LA families;

(2) LA Department of City Planning, LA Housing Department and California State Office of Real Estate policies support implementation and replication of the model

(3) Train current and potential residents to assume control over their housing (including what is cooperative housing, how to oversee a management company, analyzing an operating budget)

(4) Partnerships are in place to improve and green the area surrounding the homes

Finally, we will measure the success of this project – as we do all of our organization’s efforts – through a participatory evaluation process which analyzes how well the project aligns with TRUST South LA’s Principles of (1) developing community consciousness, (2) developing a new generations of leaders, (3) securing community ownership, (4) caring for the earth, (5) sharing knowledge and skills, (6) being experimental, (7) maintaining transparency, (8) being inclusiveness, and (9) making decisions collectively.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Los Angeles defines urban sprawl, with hundreds of miles of roads and freeways that have shaped the City over the past five decades. We all recognize that it is time to rethink, replan, and rebuild Los Angeles to be more compact and less dependent on cars. However, one of the challenges to this vision of smart growth is the many thousands of acres of single-family neighborhoods scattered throughout the City, which do not have lots that can accommodate multi-family housing. TRUST South LA is developing an affordable housing prototype for more families to comfortably live in these types of low-density residential neighborhoods – starting in our own South LA backyards. Furthermore, our model for single family affordable housing will require minimal government subsidy, which is critical in a time of reduced resources, creating the potential for large scale replication even during these lean times. With funding from LA2050, this demonstration project will provide an effective advocacy tool, as TRUST South LA and others pursue the capital subsidies from public and private sources necessary to implement this cost-effective housing model.

As a unique concept, TRUST South LA’s model creates affordability by acquiring properties discounted through the foreclosure process, and then doubling density to decrease the land cost per unit – essentially cutting our land cost in half for each home. Utilizing a mix of rehabilitation and manufactured homes, we can deliver the finished units for $175,000 per home – which is approximately HALF the cost of new multi-family construction. TRUST South LA will create permanent affordable housing – on land held in perpetuity by the community through our land trust – for 50% of what it currently costs to construct permanently affordable rental units! With a successful demonstration project, we can transform our City’s approach to creating affordable housing in low-density neighborhoods.

Additionally, our long-term goal is to create scattered-site limited equity housing cooperatives held on our community land trust, providing resident-control and resident-ownership with long-term affordability. Unlike affordable for-sale developments that lose their affordability after a subsidized homeowner sells, community land trusts circumvent the loss of that initial subsidy through community ownership of the land, which passes the benefits onto future generations. Initially, until the limited equity coop model becomes feasible through increased subsidy sources and by taking the model to scale, we will provide rental housing under the ownership of our member-controlled non-profit.

Finally, as we keep families in their neighborhoods - and create good bike, pedestrian and public transportation infrastructure in those neighborhoods - we get more Angelinos out of their cars and into the streets. This means less greenhouse gas emissions, lower obesity rates, safer streets, and more connected communities throughout LA.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

By 2050, we want the low-income residents of South Los Angeles neighborhoods to have shaped the development of housing, recreation and open space in their own neighborhoods, promoting economic vitality and healthy environments. TRUST South LA’s strategy of collective ownership is the result of our community’s desire to control the decisions that will dictate the future of our neighborhoods. With community ownership of real estate assets, we can ensure long-term affordability of housing, and direct the use of that land in perpetuity.

By 2050, we want a Los Angeles that is built more densely in order to provide more housing opportunities to families at all income levels. It is essential, as we add more housing, that we also create neighborhoods that are more livable. Our collaborations with partners and local residents will create more green space; opportunities for local food production; and the public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that encourages people to out of their cars and into their neighborhoods.