First published in the Nov. 5 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank City Council voted 4-1 to approve a 148-unit apartment building on Empire Avenue during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 1. The development proposal, which is 100% affordable housing, was met with opposition from Councilwoman Sharon Springer who said that pro-developer state mandates have stripped the city of its ability to protect the health and safety its residents.
Locals worry the Empire project will bring transients and overwhelm the parking capacities of the neighborhood. The developer, Samir Srivastava of ABS Properties, is able to bypass city density and parking requirements due to state-mandated exemptions for affordable housing projects.
Those who support the project say that Burbank is lacking in affordable housing. The city currently has a 3-to-1 jobs-to-housing ratio. Most people who work in Burbank live outside of city limits.
This is the first 100% affordable apartment complex of its scale in Burbank. The state defines affordable housing when a household spends 30% or less of its gross income on housing costs.
Across California, municipalities are struggling to maintain local control while complying with a surge of pro-development directives from state lawmakers that seek to combat the worsening housing shortage.
According to an analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California, there aren’t enough homes in California. It’s the reason housing and rent costs continue to skyrocket. Census data shows that the increase in new housing has fallen short of population growth despite state lawmakers’ efforts to boost development statewide.
State officials say that reversing the housing shortage will require an estimated 2.5 million new homes by 2030. One million of those units must be affordable to low-income residents.
To reach this goal, Sacramento has imposed lofty requirements on cities like Burbank to come up with these new units. So far, Burbank has failed, falling short of its obligation.
As a consequence, the state requires Burbank to grant qualifying developers a streamlined approval process under a controversial law called SB 35, which allows them to bypass city requirements under the condition that they build affordable housing units.
The Empire housing project takes advantage of these incentives. Because the project is eligible under SB 35, it is granted a larger footprint in the area.
The seven-story, 148-unit apartment building will only contain seven total parking spaces, due to a state exemption under SB 35 that dictates any 100% affordable housing project built within a half-mile of a transit stop can ignore city parking requirements.
For the same reason, the project is allowed to be significantly more dense than would be permitted under the city’s regulations.
“SB 35 and its interpretation have stripped Burbank and other cities of the fundamental responsibility of safeguarding the Public Health, Safety, and Welfare of its residents,” Sharon Springer told the Leader.
“The decision implicitly acknowledges that it’s OK to treat our poorest residents differently if a project is interpreted as SB 35, 100% low to extremely low income, and Low Income Housing Tax Credit,” she said.
Councilman Nick Schultz pointed out that the city added no extremely low-income units and just three very low-income units between 2014 and 2021.
“I’ve said before, I have concerns about the erosion of local control — and I stand by that — but this is a fundamentally good project. It’s adding affordable units that we haven’t added in a decade.
“I’m concerned about the parking, I’m concerned about the impacts on the neighborhood, but as I’m looking at it, it meets the requirements of Senate Bill 35,” Schultz said.
The developer has plans to build three other similar buildings in the Empire Avenue area, totaling 619 affordable housing units. Srivastava pledged to provide his renters with social services such as job training, supportive living, and substance abuse and domestic violence counseling in partnership with providers such as Home Again LA — a nonprofit homeless service agency with offices in Burbank and Glendale.
“Bringing affordable housing is a difficult task — but it’s not just building it. It’s about managing it and continuing to keep it operating well,” said Srivastava.