No Affordable Housing in College Station Is a Blow to Chinatown

DTLA—On March 21, the City Council unanimously approved developer Atlas Capital Group’s plan to build the 725-unit College Station in Chinatown. In addition to the massive size of the project, one other thing stood out: The council approved a development with no affordable housing component. This marked a reversal of a recommendation from the City Planning Commission, which wanted 5% of the units (37 residences) in the five seven-story buildings set aside for low-income earners.

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Atlas Capital is now free to build a market-rate project in a Downtown market where some new buildings charge more than $4 a square foot in rent. The developer’s intent was made clear in a March 18 document sent by its law firm to members of the council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee. It stated in part, “The Project has no legal obligation to provide affordable units — it does not seek Density Bonus or other affordable housing development incentives, and is not subject to any inclusionary housing requirement.”

That raises a question: Even if the developer is not legally required to serve more than affluent residents, does it have a moral obligation to benefit a wider swath of the historic community?

This page believes in a property owner’s right to build what it wants on its land as long as it follows laws. We also hope developers make money, as that spurs them to build more housing. At the same time, we think a developer should also strive to benefit its neighborhood.

Given the scale of College Station, combined with the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles and concerns about the changing nature of Chinatown, we are disappointed in Atlas Capital’s approach. We hope its executives will look in the mirror, consider the community, and decide to set aside a portion of apartments as low-income and workforce housing.

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We realize we may be living in dreamland, but including some affordable and workforce housing is the right thing to do.

Atlas Capital’s backers would surely state that the developer is taking a risk in financing and planning the project. They would mention that, as part of a deal brokered with First District Councilman Gil Cedillo, it is paying $500,000 in rent increases over a decade for residents of a nearby senior housing complex, and will set aside $2 million to preserve affordable housing in the district.

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That is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Atlas fought the proposal to dedicate a mere 37 units out of 725 as affordable housing, and $2.5 million in community benefits will ultimately be a very small drop in a very large bucket. This is also a bad precedent in a neighborhood where other large residential projects are being planned.

While Cedillo has worked to ensure that many low-income units have been built across his district, a project of this size in the heart of Chinatown without any affordable or workforce housing is a missed opportunity. We hope Atlas, which has other projects in Downtown and might want to establish a sense of goodwill, will consider the neighborhood and change course.

Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News