The Belmar Apartments is a 160-unit affordable housing project financed. The project, which opened last year, is managed by Community Corporation of Santa Monica. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier.
The Belmar Apartments is a 160-unit affordable housing project financed. The project, which opened last year, is managed by Community Corporation of Santa Monica. Photo by Eric Staudenmaier.

Santa Monica Next sat down with Dr. Frederick Zimmerman, an economist and a professor of Public Health at UCLA to talk about the impact our local and regional housing crisis has on our day-to-day lives and what can be done to fix it. Zimmerman, a Santa Monica resident, also has a particular interest in how economic structure—including poverty and inequality—influence population health. Below is the second part of a two-part interview. Read part one here.

Santa Monica Next: You brought up the Legislative Analyst Office’s report which says that the housing crisis is too big a problem for us to address with subsidized affordable and nonprofit housing alone. What happens if we don’t work with the market forces going forward?

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If you are concerned about traffic, housing is really the last thing you should be worried about.[/pullquote]Dr. Frederick Zimmerman: In L.A., depending on how you look at it, there are roughly 25 percent who are in poverty. The numbers are a little bit higher or lower depending on the poverty threshold you use. However, it’s closer to 40 percent of people who are “income constrained,” meaning that they are close to the poverty level.

Those are people who would not generally qualify for any kind of housing subsidy; they wouldn’t qualify for affordable housing necessarily, but they are definitely in housing that is not affordable given their relatively low income.

There are a lot of people in L.A. that are in that category. Nearly 50 percent of county residents are in this category where they can only barely afford the housing that they are in.

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These are people who are earning six-figure incomes and would be considered upper-middle class by the standards of the rest of the country and yet, are still struggling with the effects of the poor housing market here, whether it’s because they have a decent home but it’s a long commute or whether it’s because they are squeezing into space that is too small, it definitely has an effect way up high on the income spectrum.
[/pullquote]Another example is like my friend [mentioned in the op-ed] who is relatively well off but is a single mom. She has a very good job, but as a single mom, housing prices are adversely affecting her lifestyle.

These are people who are earning six-figure incomes and would be considered upper-middle class by the standards of the rest of the country and yet, are still struggling with the effects of the poor housing market here, whether it’s because they have a decent home but it’s a long commute or whether it’s because they are squeezing into space that is too small, it definitely has an effect way up high on the income spectrum.

SMN: The other problem is when that person with the six-figure income has to move to a place where housing is cheaper that might be a lower-income neighborhood, they displace lower-income people. There is a ripple effect when a place like Santa Monica doesn’t build market-rate housing.

FZ: That’s exactly right. In fact, there was a KCRW Which Way L.A.? story a couple months ago about the trouble artists are having in areas that have been historically more affordable. Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park are generally no longer affordable for low-income artists. They are trying to find spaces in different areas where they can survive and they are finding it increasingly difficult. I think when L.A. finally squeezes out the last artists and creative people, it’s not going to be L.A. anymore.

SMN: When will that be?

FZ: Clearly there are problems already. I’m hoping we can turn this around. I’m hoping we can make Los Angeles a place where everyone has a place to live and can thrive. In the particular case of Santa Monica, I think there have been some interesting developments.

Are you familiar with the documentary Dogtown and the Z Boys? That’s a part of Santa Monica that I think is really an important part of our city’s history and it really informs the character of Santa Monica.

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More housing does not necessarily mean more traffic. Transportation planning can have an enormous effect on patterns of traffic in the city. The jobs-housing imbalance has a huge impact on traffic in the city.
[/pullquote]Those are the people who have been squeezed out. That’s no longer a lifestyle that’s possible here. They invented a skateboard culture that’s a real testament to the creativity and innovation of the Los Angeles spirit. That happened in Santa Monica. That could not happen in the Santa Monica of today. I hope that can happen in the Santa Monica of the future. I hope that we can preserve space for creativity and innovation.

SMN: There seems to be momentum in Los Angeles to build more housing, at least in Mayor Garcetti’s sustainability plan, which calls for 100,000 new homes to be built by 2021. How does that affect Santa Monica?

FZ: I think it should be an inspiring example that we should try to follow. Santa Monica is going to be tremendously impacted by that decision. We can decide how we adapt to that decision.

SMN: What else should we be thinking about going forward?

FZ: I think there are a couple things that are tremendously important. One is the relationship between transit and housing. It is a complicated, nonlinear relationship. More housing does not necessarily mean more traffic. Transportation planning can have an enormous effect on patterns of traffic in the city. The jobs-housing imbalance has a huge impact on traffic in the city.

Then there are very simple things that are almost boring but that can have a huge impact on traffic. For example, one thing we’ve studied at UCLA is the gas tax. Increasing the gas tax really does get people out of their cars in ways that are healthy. They travel more by bike, end up walking more, using public transit. Incentivizing bike riding by building protected bike lanes, putting bike racks outside of most businesses.

If you are concerned about traffic, housing is really the last thing you should be worried about. There are other things that can be done to mitigate traffic that have a much bigger effect.