At 26 years old, Ixchel Hernández has become the defender and protector of her family’s modest apartment. In the two decades that they have lived in her Los Angeles home, the family of four has successfully fought off multiple attempts to fix prices and ultimately force them out.
“We are human beings with the right to live in our home, and that is frankly what every person…in every home and [in] every building should know… they have the right to have their own space, to have their home,” said Hernández.
But across the country, affordable housing is becoming rarer. The lack of housing inventory, coupled with inflation and zoning inequities, have required families to work harder to find a home, and have even put most families out of price, especially those starting with Little or no own capital.
Ixchel’s parents moved to the United States from Mexico in hopes of giving her and her brother opportunities and a safe environment. Her father, José Hernández, never wanted to give the family’s various landlords a reason to evict them over the years, and dreamed of owning her own home one day.
“Thank God we never stopped paying the rent,” he said. But to keep up with rising rents, both parents worked and even opened their home to another family for a brief time. Ixchel remembers six people crammed into her one-bedroom apartment.
“It shouldn’t have to be that way where you fight for space or you’re going to have to move so far outside of Los Angeles in order to have a home,” he said.
To buy a home in more than 75% of the country’s most populous cities, an average family needs to spend at least 30% of their annual income on housing. In cities like Miami, New York and Los Angeles, that number rises to more than 80% of an average family’s annual income.
Homeownership for the Hernandez family, and many others, has felt like a fading American dream. That is until they discovered a civil rights-era approach that helps promote homeownership, particularly among minority groups, who are disproportionately affected by the affordable housing crisis. It’s called the Community Land Trust, or CLT.
“We are operated by residents who actually live in our building… [as well as] people from the communities we serve,” said Kasey Ventura of the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust. “My interest in this job, in addition to preserving housing and affordable housing, is preserving culture in a community.”
A CLT is essentially a non-profit organization that purchases the land on which a building sits, allowing the residents of a community to manage it collectively. Some residents eventually choose to form a cooperative with their neighbors and take possession of their buildings, renting out the land.
The Hernández family and their neighbors accepted the concept. This year they joined the Beverly-Vermont CLT, one of at least five in Los Angeles and more than 200 across the country. The process requires the neighbors to meet regularly for several months before finally unanimously agreeing to various terms to finalize the trust. Ixchel is now part of her building’s board of directors; it is in the final stages of transferring ownership to the cooperative.
“The important thing is that now we are owners!” said Ixchel’s mother, Guadalupe Santiago. “But it’s also important to remember that it wasn’t easy,” warned her father.
“It may not sound like a lot to a lot of people who have money or come from money,” Ixchel said. “[But] we are equally trying to build that generational wealth.”
According to 2019 figures, the United States was roughly 3.8 million homes short of what was needed to house families. That’s more than double the number from a decade earlier. California has the largest housing deficit of any state, requiring one million more homes to meet housing demand.
“We don’t necessarily see housing as a necessity that everyone should have. And that’s key…in this job,” said Kasey Ventura, who helps manage the Beverly-Vermont Community Land Trust in Los Angeles.
While CLTs are one solution, Ventura concedes that there are, and should be, other affordable housing options to adequately address the crisis.
In Southern California, there is a growing demand for the construction and rental of ADUs or accessory dwelling units. Also called “carriage houses,” converted garages or smaller, newly built structures sit next to existing homes and sit on the same property. The mostly studio or one-bedroom apartments provide a more affordable option for many who prefer to live or work in areas that might otherwise be too expensive.
Others have advocated using vacant houses. There are dozens of vacant homes, in some cases located just blocks from various homeless encampments that line many Los Angeles sidewalks. However, efforts to transform them into affordable housing in some neighborhoods have proven controversial among existing homeowners.
Another avenue undertaken by some companies is Employer Assisted Living. Although they have only completed a portion of what they initially promised, in recent years corporations like Google, Meta and Apple have promised to spend billions of dollars on some 40,000 new homes in California. The initiative began to combat rising home prices in the Bay Area, while also recruiting and retaining talent who needed more affordable housing options, along with a shorter commute to the office.
“Just so I can say, ‘Okay, I’ll wake up, take a walk down the street and go to work.’ I mean it’s amazing!” said Matthew Johnson, an employee at Factory_OS in Vallejo, California, which already plans to provide workforce housing options to its workers for years to come. Unlike other companies, however, Factory_OS employees will build their own houses.
In a space once used to build US Navy submarines during World War II, Larry Pace now operates Factory_OS outside of San Francisco. He co-founded the company with Rick Holliday to address the worsening housing shortage.
“That we have reused a building that was once used for instruments of war, [so as] a [now] create affordable and supportive housing…. I don’t know how much cooler it can be,” Pace said.
Factory_OS puts home construction on an assembly line and produces fully finished modular units in two weeks. From insulation and drywall to flooring, fixtures and paint, everything is pre-fabricated within the confines of the factory before being trucked to a site for assembly.
“We’ve created an IKEA for home manufacturing,” Pace said. “Then we put the pieces together.”
When lifted with a crane and stacked like sophisticated Legos, the modular units combine to form complete apartment buildings. Pace argues that there are massive cost savings and huge efficiencies in moving home construction to a factory setting compared to building on-site.
“We are building houses for people who need them, for people who have been struggling to provide for their families or pay their rent or pay their bills,” Johnson said, as he put up support beams for the roof of one of the units. .
The 38-year-old Factory_OS employee and father of five was once homeless, and said he often thinks of the families that will one day live under the roof he is assembling. w
“Every morning I wake up, I’m thankful … that I get home from work and my kids are waiting for me,” Johnson said.