Downsizing May Help LA’s Housing Crisis

Lack of housing inventory in Los Angeles has caused the area’s prices to skyrocket to pre-recession figures, on top of making sprawl and traffic worse. In the past, one solution to the inventory shortage has been to build big condo buildings, but there may be a more thoughtful solution.

One recent home building project has shown that single-family houses on little plots of vacant, overlooked land in existing neighborhoods could be the best solution for the current LA housing crisis. These new homes could make the city known for suburban tract homes way denser, less-traffic-jammed and more livable.

In Echo Park, developer LocalConstruct combined the lots of six dilapidated houses and hired local architect and former Echo Park resident Barbara Bestor to design a cluster of 18 single-family houses, ranging from 1,365 to 1,920 square feet and arranged around a landscaped parking courtyard. The new houses are detached and semidetached with crisp fiber-cement exteriors and interiors featuring modern styling, built-in shelving, marble countertops and various eco-friendly touches. The mix of two- and three-bedroom homes is steps away from a bus stop and close to a bustling local retail and restaurant scene. Bestor designed the houses’ rooflines to preserve views and to blend into the surrounding hills—the houses resemble a flock of birds, thus the name Blackbirds given to the housing complex.

Although Blackbirds alone won’t completely solve the LA housing problem, the project stands as the prime example of an alternative to condo mania. Although the developers were allowed to build more on the lot, they chose to make something as respectful to the neighborhood as possible. Casey Lynch, co-founder of LocalConstruct, said most condo developments are “out of scale with their surroundings and they add too many new units, putting a strain on parking and traffic and utilities. It robs neighborhoods of character.”

The buyers of the new homes fit LocalConstruct’s predictions: first-time owners under 35 (some with help from their parents) and empty nesters downsizing from larger houses. “These people don’t want to be car-dependent,” says Lynch. “They want to live near public transit in a walkable neighborhood with amenities nearby.” While the asking prices range from $795,000 to $1,145,000—in line with other Echo Park real estate—some units are going for above asking.

In going forward with adding new units to LA’s housing inventory, it will be important for new developments to include affordable housing. The city is ready to redefine the subdivision and welcomes downsizing to do that. Although Blackbirds may be an inspiration of design and the model for a more traffic- and neighborhood-friendly alternative to condos, it’s not a cure all – it doesn’t add enough inventory to shrink the prices with it and it may be awhile until Los Angeles can make that balance.

What is your take on this new “shrinking subdivision?” Do you think it’s a good place to start in solving LA’s housing problems?

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