The city of Beverly Hills faces mounting pressure to increase affordable housing as a moratorium on most types of new construction nears its end. With land prices high and few vacant lots, officials must balance resident concerns over adding density with the need for lower-cost units.

The temporary halt on building enacted last year aims to give leaders time to revamp zoning rules, but some experts say it has only exacerbated the shortage. As the city’s leaders debate changes, many ask what the moratorium’s end might mean for one of America’s most elite and exclusive communities.

Understanding Beverly Hills’ Construction Moratorium

The City of Beverly Hills recently faced legal challenges regarding its Housing Element, a state-mandated plan outlining how the city will meet its affordable housing needs. In December 2020, Judge Curtis A. Kin issued a moratorium halting all residential construction permits in Beverly Hills until the city submitted a revised Housing Element addressing its lack of affordable housing.

Source: Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills has failed to provide adequate, affordable housing for decades. According to legal advocates, the city has ample space and resources to develop affordable housing but lacks the political will. Beverly Hills is a major job center, yet its rents and home prices far exceed state averages.

Resident Outrage and Compromise

The moratorium outraged many Beverly Hills residents who value the city’s exclusivity and character. However, some experts argue the city must compromise by allowing denser, taller buildings to address the statewide housing crisis. A proposed seven-story building, including six affordable units, was recently approved, signaling the city may be open to compromise.

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The moratorium and legal challenges highlight Beverly Hills’ struggle to reconcile its exclusive character with the urgent need for affordable housing. Compromise and compliance seem to be the only way to address its housing crisis while preserving the city’s essence.

How the Moratorium Impacts Affordable Housing

The moratorium on new construction in Beverly Hills has put immense pressure on the city to provide affordable housing options. As Gelfand notes, Beverly Hills has ample space and opportunity to develop affordable housing despite claims to the contrary.

Source: Low Income Housing US

To comply with California’s Housing Element law and address the statewide housing crisis, Beverly Hills must provide a reasonable proportion of housing for its population growth. The city has failed to submit an acceptable housing blueprint for decades. The recent ruling serves as a check on the city to fulfill its legal obligations in providing affordable housing.

A Difficult Balancing Act

Beverly Hills finds itself in a difficult position in balancing the needs of its residents with the requirements of state law. As Nissle indicates, the city must find a way to satisfy the state without undermining its distinctive character.

Source: Urbanize LA

The city seems poised to follow the path of nearby areas like Hollywood and Santa Monica in building higher-density housing. While this shift may unsettle some residents, it represents the “new reality of things” for Beverly Hills as it addresses the need for more affordable housing options.

Proposed Solutions to Add Affordable Units

To meet the state’s affordable housing requirements, Beverly Hills will need to approve new residential developments that include affordable units. Some proposed solutions include approving mixed-use high-rise buildings and revising zoning laws for increased housing density.

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Developers have proposed at least 14 high-rise residential buildings in Beverly Hills, with 20% of units reserved for low-income renters, to satisfy the state mandate. For example, Wilshire Skyline has proposed a seven-story building with six affordable units.

Compromising With Developers

As Santa Monica did, Beverly Hills could negotiate with developers to allow some increased density in exchange for more affordable units or other community benefits. For instance, the city might approve a 10-story building if 30% of units are affordable rather than the mandated 20%.

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While compromise risks pushback from residents preferring limited growth, it could yield more affordable housing than strict enforcement of current zoning. To satisfy state affordable housing requirements, Beverly Hills must make difficult choices between angering residents who oppose density and high-rises, and facing legal consequences for non-compliance.

Creative Approaches to Affordable Housing

With a mandate to provide affordable housing and limited space to build new units, Beverly Hills will need to explore creative solutions. One approach is to incentivize developers to include affordable units in new luxury buildings. For example, the city recently approved a 54-unit building that includes six affordable units, which helps meet state requirements while preserving the city’s character.

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By allowing developers to build higher or denser in exchange for affordable units, the city can gain needed housing at little cost. In addition to inclusionary zoning policies, the city should consider supporting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which are secondary units added to existing residential lots.

Pushing For More Through Housing Funds and Tax Incentives at State Level

Beverly Hills should also advocate for affordable housing funds and tax incentives at the state level. New state funding sources for affordable housing could support projects in Beverly Hills without burdening city funds. Tax incentives like low-income housing tax credits can attract private investment in affordable housing. With state support, the city may gain flexibility in meeting housing requirements in a way that aligns with community goals.

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The city must take action to avoid further legal consequences while preserving its desirable character. Exploring creative, affordable housing solutions, especially those relying on private and state support, can help achieve both of these aims.

The Future of Affordable Housing in Beverly Hills

The city of Beverly Hills faces significant challenges in providing affordable housing for its residents in the coming years. According to the city’s revised Housing Element blueprint, thousands of new affordable housing units are needed to meet the state’s requirements, yet the city lacks adequate space to build them.

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Some city officials argue that Beverly Hills does not have enough available land to construct affordable housing on the scale demanded by the state. As Alan Nissle, head of Wilshire Skyline real estate development firm, told The Hollywood Reporter, “If it is going to grow, it has to grow vertically…It’s just the new reality of things.”

Sharing an Elite Neighborhood

While Beverly Hills has long been associated with luxury and exclusivity, the city’s moratorium on new construction presents an opportunity to address the need for more affordable housing options. With development on pause, Beverly Hills can thoughtfully re-evaluate its zoning laws and building incentives to encourage developers to include moderately priced units.

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If handled strategically, Beverly Hills could pioneer a model for socioeconomic integration that upholds the city’s reputation for premier real estate while also creating housing solutions for teachers, service workers, and middle-income families.