We often blog about eminent domain in New York and across the country. This week we came across an interesting story about Los Angeles’ Chinatown, where the City council is trying to use eminent domain and COVID-19 funding to ensure that an affordable housing building remains.
What is interesting about this story is that cities have started to use eminent domain more frequently to acquire properties for public/affordable housing. Of course, affordable housing is a valid public use under the eminent domain laws, so this makes perfect sense.
Back to our story: this month, the City council will decide whether to acquire the building known as Hillside Villa through its powers of eminent domain; in order to keep it permanently affordable as public housing. In 2018, a 30-year affordable housing agreement expired at the Villa, and landlord Tom Botz issued a one-year notice to tenants that their rents would rise to market rate. For some residents this could mean a 200% increase. In 2019, L.A. agreed to pay Botz $12.7 million to maintain the Villa’s affordability agreement for another 10 years, but he reneged on the deal.
Los Angeles has a housing crisis. Ananya Roy, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, says L.A. must use eminent domain to beat its housing crisis. The City’s ability to meet its housing goals “will rest on the public acquisition of land and property,” she wrote in an email.
The history of eminent domain in Los Angeles is most remembered by events in the 1950’s, when the City seized properties to build Dodger’s Stadium. The properties, which were designated as public housing, were taken from families in Chavez Ravine to build the stadium.
History is looking to be remade. Councilmember Gil Cedillo first called for the acquisition of the Villa in January via eminent domain, and this month he proposed that the City finance the acquisition with its remaining CARES Act money. Los Angeles received nearly $700 million from the federal government to combat the COVID-19 crisis last spring, and around $43 million remains. ,
The Villa’s market value has been appraised at approximately $46 million. A $46 million acquisition would cost the city approximately $371,000 per unit in the Villa, while construction and development regulations mean new units can cost the city more than $500,000. Even if the money is available, Botz insists the building is not for sale.
Eminent domain has been regularly used to create affordable housing in NYC, and it appears that now L.A. intends to do the same.