And Now, A Moment of Development Despair From Tony…

by Tony Chavira

The more time I spend online hunting down articles, the more depressed I become about affordable housing.  It doesn’t seem to matter when the article is dated, I always seem to read something along the lines of “Affordable Developer X has a plan that will…”, “Affordable Developer X is working with the city to…”, or “a partnership between Affordable Developer X and Conglomerated Mega-Developer Y will…”

What the hell happens to these plans?  I know that some just fall through the cracks in the idea stage, and I’ve definitely paid my dues volunteering time with citizen groups in Los Angeles just to see this happen.  Some have solid ideas but collapse right on the brink of property purchase, when the money inevitably falls through.  That one always hurts.  Sometimes you’ve got the money and land, but the paperwork and political will just aren’t there, and you and your team get discouraged by the wall of paperwork wrapped in red tape.

But the one that hurts the most to me is when you know that you have the idea, the money and the political will, but bad planning and programming and timeline cause the project to either go totally over-budget or the project is completed but looks like crap because it’s all their budget could really afford.  You leave these projects feeling like you could’ve do so much more, and you’re not as proud as you wish you were with how everything turns out.

It’s one thing if you’ve screwed up at some point along the line, and bad planning caused your project to go over-budget.  It’s another when you’re meticulous and conservative, but it still doesn’t do what you want it to do.

Everyone knows that Robert Burns line about the “best laid plans,” but sometimes the best laid plans are just too expensive.  But doesn’t everyone deserve your best work, no matter their income bracket?

Do you think that Frank Gehry or Thom Mayne would put the highest quality work into a low-income project, no matter the budget restrictions?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  Think that Related Co.s or Sonny Astani will say to their team, “don’t worry about the money, let’s just make this look great!”  I know that money is always the “bottom line” issue, but can’t we just do one awesome affordable housing development in a dense urban area to prove to people that we can?

Guaranteed, 99.999% of projects proposed in Southern California never get built.  Doesn’t matter where the ideas originate, getting something built is just too much of a hassle for everyone.

As true as it was when Robert Burns wrote it in 1784, “Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”  So for a moment, let us pause and shed a tear for all of the amazing ideas that never happened and all of the current plans that could help people, but will never come to pass.

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