Friday, September 30, 2022
Provide Affordable and Safe Housing in South L.A.  
By Earl “Skip” Cooper II 
Published August 11, 2022

Earl “Skip” Cooper (File photo)

For decades now, Los Angeles has been experiencing annual population growth, adding nearly a quarter of a million residents in the last 10 years alone. Los Angeles represents one of the most important multicultural hubs of industry, art, and economy in the world, and the growth only continues. There is much to celebrate about our city and much of which residents should be proud. 


Of course, with growth come challenges, and one of the glaring issues our city faces currently is the increasing need for affordable, sustainable, safe housing. 



The housing crisis in South Los Angeles, especially as it relates to residents in the lower-income bracket, must be addressed now, not later. South Los Angeles needs thousands of new housing units, and as we build, it is vital that we emphasize long-term sustainability and safety for those in need.  


Additionally, given the continued rise in extreme weather, fire safety is at an all-time premium, and continuing to build with combustible materials must be viewed as a non-starter. High fire zones are expanding at an exponential pace — now reaching into the urban and suburban areas of the city.  


Fortunately, there are some city leaders with foresight who want to address these concerns. Los Angeles City Councilmembers Blumenfield and Rodriguez have co-sponsored a motion called Building a Safer Los Angeles that promises to address some of these needs. 



The concept is simple: identify the areas of South Los Angeles that are most in need and protect them using the best available technologies and the most effective public policy approaches. Unfortunately, residents of South Los Angeles have never been able to overcome the power of well-connected special interest groups. But perhaps now as we look to elect a new mayor and some new councilmembers, the voice of the underrepresented will be heard. 


Our support for sensible regulations is based on providing the most affordable and safe housing to communities like South Los Angeles that have traditionally been the last to see best practices for new development. The Blumenfield and Rodriguez initiative is very clear, calling for utilization of safe, resilient, and non-combustible materials such as treated wood, concrete, and steel, which have long been seen as superior building materials for fire prevention and longevity.  


Until recently, sturdier, more sustainable materials have been associated with higher upfront costs than cheaper alternatives. Now, thanks to engineering and scientific advancements in the field, this is no longer the case; in fact, non-combustible materials like treated wood and concrete are cheaper for housing projects in the long and short term. 


When building for the future, particularly in communities where there is higher density with sometimes multiple families in one apartment, architects and planners must consider a structure’s lifespan, and view the project as more than an investment. Rather, it will be someone’s home that needs to be safe and protected. We believe that our city regulators should also take into consideration the costs of energy efficiency, insurance rates, maintenance, and the environment we live in — all of which point to the necessity to build with sustainable, resilient materials. 


This must be the case in our communities when it comes to building affordable, multi-unit housing structures. Organizations such as The Black Business Association, Recycling Black Dollars, GLAAACC, and the Southern California Minority Contractors Association must take part in the growth and development of South Los Angeles.  


There are some groups — principally those associated with special interest developers — who suggest that enhancing our building codes will raise the cost of construction. While this argument may have at one time been true, inflation, modern technologies, and other methods render it untrue. The price of construction materials continues to become more affordable and practical to work with.  


The fact is that Building a Safer Los Angeles will increase the number of safe, affordable rental units, and reduce construction costs, not raise them, while simultaneously ensuring superior standards in safety and sustainability. 


It is vital and non-negotiable that a percentage of jobs and business opportunities must go directly to those who live in South Los Angeles. Now is the time to act before more housing units are developed with less-than-optimal community participation. 


Earl “Skip” Cooper II is the chairman of the Board and president emeritus of the Black Business Association and a former commissioner if the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. 


Categories: Opinion

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