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LOS ANGELES-The plan that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled last week to produce 20,000 new housing units in the city will also depend on product types other than housing to succeed, according to city officials and an Orange County-based architect who is an authority on transit-oriented developments. Part of the mayor’s proposal is a “Sustainable Communities Initiative” to encourage the development of 20 pedestrian-oriented, mixed-income transit-oriented neighborhoods along the Gold Line in East Los Angeles and the Exposition Line in South Los Angeles.

The mayor’s plan is called “Housing That Works” and is a five-year program to “make Los Angeles a more affordable place of middle class families to live and work,” according to the mayor’s announcement last week. The plan call for the city to invest $200 million a year for five years from a number of sources—augmented by a commitment of $700 million over five years from Enterprise Community Partners, a Columbia, MD-based nonprofit with 25 years of experience in the community development and affordable housing field. With leverage, the city’s commitment alone would produce $5 billion worth of housing, according to the mayor’s proposal.

Ernesto Vasquez, a partner with the Irvine-based MVE & Partners architecture firm, suggests that transit villages like those envisioned in the mayor’s plan can be designed to attract people out of Downtown to enjoy night life or weekend jaunts. He points out that the Gold Line has the potential to “become the gateway to East Los Angeles” and draw people to developments along the way. “It is a mistake to think about traffic just going Downtown. There is a large population downtown that could travel out as well,” Vasquez says.

“You want to create communities that thrive 18 hours a day, seven day a week,” Vasquez continues. “To do that, you want an element of retail, you want restaurants, you want some commercial space. You want to create transit hubs that attract people.”

Vasquez designed the 250,000-sf Fruitvale Village mixed-use transit stop on the BART line, in Oakland, and he played a key role in designing Mariachi Plaza, a proposed pedestrian-friendly housing development on the Gold Line in Boyle Heights. The Fruitvale Village development converted BART parking lots into a transit-oriented community, and has become something of an icon within the mass transit and urban planning communities as a development that reinvigorated a dead urban space.

City officials says that Villaraigosa’s “Housing That Works” proposal represents the first time that all housing and planning departments are coming together in a coordinated effort, with one strategy to invest in affordable housing. The 20,000 affordable homes would be double the number of units constructed since the beginning of the mayor’s time in office.

Another component of “Housing That Works” involves shifting the city’s strategy from managing homelessness to moving people out of it. The plan funds 2,200 permanent housing units where homeless men and women would be connected to social services. Another part of the plan is designed to protect L.A.’s homes and neighborhoods by addressing the foreclosure crisis through a program called the the Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative.

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