Redesigning the American dream of home ownership for LA’s ‘missing middle’

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Los Angeles with Isla Intersections, a housing design by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA). Credit: Paul Vu for LOHA.

Senate Bill 50 was the polarizing housing bill that proposed overriding local zoning in order to increase density around transit. It was rejected for good at the end of January, after several attempts to get it passed.

Advocates of greater density blamed the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) mindset for holding back development of much needed housing. 

But are NIMBYs the only obstructionists? Or is there a bigger hurdle to changing housing policy: the American dream of home ownership? Both NIMBYs and many so-called YIMBYs (Yes in My Backyard) will, if they have the means, purchase a house rather than rent an apartment or own a condo.

After all, a house is a means to personal freedom, design choices, and building wealth. 

So the mayor’s office is looking at innovative ways to create multifamily buildings that meet all of those needs, without upsetting the neighbors. 

KCRW’s Frances Anderton talks with Christopher Hawthorne, Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles, about forthcoming outreach for ideas on redesigning the American Dream. 

Hawthorne and colleagues are looking at a specific group -- the so-called “missing middle” -- middle income people who want to own a home but can’t afford a house in the large lots typical of 20th century LA. 

That’s probably young families -- the next generation of Angelenos. They don’t want to rent forever, and if there’s nothing to buy, many will look to other cities.

Hawthorne and his colleagues are looking at both physical and financial solutions.

Financial incentives might include a tax break for renters, or subdividing single family properties into smaller, more affordable lots.

The design concept is for something mid-scale, such as one or two story wood frame housing, with two to eight units, that can fit comfortably into neighborhoods currently zoned for single families.

Hawthorne plans to reach out to designers for concepts that will make them just as alluring as a house -- today’s version of the American dream.