By Stuart Waldman, President, Valley Industry & Commerce Association.
As I was driving home the other day through Van Nuys, I passed an abandoned vacant lot. You see these around the San Fernando Valley pretty often, and every time I see one, I think through the possibilities for this unused land. The Valley could benefit from the revitalization of these abandoned lots – new businesses, new community hubs of retail and restaurants, and perhaps most urgently, new housing and jobs.
For years, communities across California benefitted from Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) and Enterprise Zones. RDAs used tax-increment financing to revitalize blighted areas of local communities and Enterprise Zones promoted business expansion, created jobs and encouraged economic activity through local-state partnerships. RDAs and Enterprise Zones were great until Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated the programs in 2011. But these programs worked, and they need to be brought back to life.
Cities and counties were able to use most new property tax dollars generated in these neighborhoods, spending those dollars on roads, parks and transit upgrades. A portion of RDA funds were set aside to help build low-income housing. Many areas of Los Angeles were able to attract businesses to previously economically depressed neighborhoods through Enterprise Zones, creating thousands of jobs.
After the dismantling of these two programs, many housing projects were left in limbo and thousands of jobs were lost.
Cities and counties experienced a significant decline of affordable housing development as well as a loss of businesses. Elected officials have been battling with each other and their communities for years to figure out a solution to this problem.
Well, if RDAs and Enterprise Zones worked, why not bring them back?
Luckily, one of our esteemed legislators in the California State Assembly has had a similar thought. Assemblymember David Chiu has introduced Assembly Bill 3037 to make the revival of RDAs a reality. This proposal would bring back redevelopment agencies, help revitalize areas like the Valley and offer funding to build affordable housing units.
However, we can’t stop there. Enterprise Zones helped thousands of Angelenos find jobs, in most cases taking them off state safety-net programs and transforming them into contributing working families. As we prepare to host the Olympics in 2028, these programs would allow Los Angeles to deliver on truly being a world-class city.
The San Fernando Valley is a wonderful place to live, but without reasonably priced housing and jobs, families can’t afford to live here. There is a clear opportunity to use our tax dollars to drive smart growth. Imagine all the housing units and jobs that could emerge from bringing back RDAs and Enterprise Zones.
Many young adults that I know see the California dream as just that – a dream. It’s something that has become increasingly intangible and unrealistic for them. Finding a job has become tremendously competitive, finding a decently priced apartment seems impossible and purchasing a home is simply out of the question.
It was not always like this. California has lost its way on housing and jobs, and we need to use every tool in our toolkit to house Californians at a reasonable price, without an hours-long commute, working several jobs, or considering whether moving outside of California would be a smarter decision for employees’ families.
State legislators understand that something must be done, and to their credit, have suggested several strategies to tackle this issue. But for some reason, it seems as though we are still scratching our heads on how to solve the California housing crisis while keeping businesses in the state.
Last year, a number of housing bills were passed and signed by the governor. But if we’re being honest, it’s not going to be enough to get us where we need to be. Cities including Los Angeles, are making the market-rate housing crisis worse by adding regulations and hiking up fees to fund development of affordable housing.
There was a time when funding affordable housing developments, creating jobs and revitalizing communities was a clear responsibility of RDAs and Enterprise Zones. Let’s make the California dream a reality again. Let’s house Californians at a price they can afford, let’s create jobs in their communities and let’s show companies that California is open for business.