Affordable housing goes to the ballot boxFree Access

Cheaper apartments eliminated unless new units are built


 

 

Calabasas residents will vote next month on one of the most debated land-use issues in the city’s history—Measure N.

A yes vote will allow the development of 161 new apartments at Avalon Calabasas, a rental community at Meadow Creek and Orchid lanes.

But it’s more complicated than that. The project would be built without the oversight of the city, and if voters choose not to allow the construction of the new apartments, 80 families who currently live in below market-rate rentals at the complex will lose their affordable pricing.

Virginia-based AvalonBay Communities, owner of the complex, submitted a voter-initiative last summer that seeks to let residents, and not the city, decide whether to allow the development.

The company, which has a net worth of over $30 billion, has stated the new apartments are needed to offset the continued cost of the 80 existing units that have been set aside for lower-income families. The complex was built in 1988 with a county bond that required the affordable units, but AvalonBay recently paid off the bond and is under no obligation to market the units at a lower rate.

Representatives from the company who have spoken at City Council meetings say the only way to ensure the residents of the 80 low-rate apartments can stay in their homes is to allow the company to develop the new units and rent them out at market rate.

“Calabasas is a caring community and a yes vote means 80 families who live here, some for more than a decade, many single moms and seniors, will be allowed to stay in their home,” Danny Simons of the Yes on N campaign said. “That should be enough to vote yes.”

But critics say the company is misrepresenting its intentions— that AvalonBay is threatening 80 families with eviction unless the city bows to development.

Some locals fear that if Measure N passes it will send a signal to other developers, who may choose to submit their development plans directly to the voters rather than follow established procedures established by the city planning commission.

Leading the charge against Measure N is Calabasas resident Frances Alet. The No on N campaign is sending flyers and advertisements to city residents to let them know how the measure came to be.

“Nobody working on the campaign is against affordable housing,” Alet said. “It’s the way AvalonBay is going about this.

“If they had gone to the city and said, ‘We want to preserve these units. We need 20 or 30 new ones to break even,’ I think the city would’ve understood that,” Alet said. “But they didn’t. They opted to do an end-run around the system, and they’re leveraging their low-income tenants in order to maximize their profits.”

At a meeting in November, an attorney for AvalonBay said the company has a fiscal responsibility to its shareholders to make money, which is why the bond was paid off early and why rents must be raised.

Alet said she understands that a publicly traded entity like AvalonBay is beholden to its investors, but alleges that the company’s method of obtaining the new apartments is unethical.

Simons said critics of the Yes on N campaign have “a very jaded world view” and that the initiative to add the 161 new units has been “painful and personal” for AvalonBay.

“The property owner has cared enough to create a means to keep the 80 families in their affordable homes; they are family,” Simons said. “One has to consider that the new units come with a big cost, both investment and risk, to replace the loss of revenue and the investment cost of more than $50 million to build the new units.”

The Yes on N campaign has been endorsed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Alet and others have said that, contrary to the company’s claims that the 161 new apartments are needed to offset the cost of the 80 affordable ones, the math doesn’t add up—that fewer new apartments would suffice to recoup the revenue being lost on the affordable units.

According to Simons, the 161 units will make up for the cost of the affordable housing, as well as pay off new construction cost and “generate a return.”

The No on N campaign is staffed by volunteers and donations. Alet said her only previous experience in community organizing was working with No on F, a 2016 campaign to halt development along the Las Virgenes scenic corridor.

As for Measure N, “It’s a David and-Goliath fight,” Alet said. “We’re running on donations.