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Which Green Were You Referring To? Green Housing and Affordability

With all of the talk of Peak Oil and rising gas prices, combined with one of the highest unemployment rates in years, we are going to have to do some things differently. One of those different things is living closer to where we work.


That sounds simple.

It was simple for me: Childless, healthy, with disposable income me.

After seeing Inconvenient Truth I sold my car. I got a place closer to my job -- oh wait, I freelance, so I just got a place where I could be near people who occasionally pay me money. I thought to myself, “This is fabulous, everyone should do this.”

I had the self-righteous, “I’m more greenie than you” smugness.

Then one day while riding the Montebello 40 bus on my way to my place right outside of downtown in Boyle Heights (currently I’m in Downtown, I wanted to be “greener“) I saw a person with a MTA bus uniform board the bus. I’d never seen a MTA bus driver on the bus.


So I took this as an opportunity to be self -righteous, I asked her, “Why don’t you live Downtown? I saw you got on at Pershing Square?”

She looked at me and laughed. She was about my age, but more tired.

And she said, “Because Downtown is expensive and I have three kids. I just got this job and Metro starts drivers off part-time.”

“Oh,” said me.

She then said, “I’ve been looking. I found this place in Koreatown, but it was too expensive.”

One look through Craigslist LA in downtown, Santa Monica and other transit friendly neighborhoods brings up rents of no less than $1,000 and most are closer to $1500 dollars, with move in costs towards $3,000-$4,000. These prices are for studios. That’s about 500 square feet. How exactly do you raise three kids in a studio? What single mom working part-time has $4,000 to move into a studio? The median annual income for LA County is $36,000 and quite a few people are making a lot less than that.


And the conversations we should be having are:

How do we, in the environmental movement, make it fair for those of us in the community who do not have the money to pick up and move or to live closer to their jobs?

When the inner city turns into cosmopolitan centers the suburbs become the ghettos, how does that fix anything?

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How does it solve anything?

The vast majority of people don’t have the flexibility or the income to live closer to their job.

That kind of ability only comes with privilege. The privilege that only comes with money.

Housing that isn’t affordable for a person with an average wage is not green housing. You can give a housing complex as many LEED awards as you would like, but without it being affordable to the majority of the community, it’s not green.

Evo’s condos in downtown L.A.’s South Park calls itself "the first sustainable neighborhood.” One of Evo’s condos is going for $3.9 million.


Organizations with board of directors that make money off of development and building new expensive housing are not helping. Just because an organization is non-profit doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Kaiser is a non-profit.

Can you have a green endeavor that mixes in capitalism and a slice of social justice in the form of a few affordable housing spots, which oddly seem to often go to students and other people that the leasing office personally knows?

Surface changes like moving more well-off people closer to their jobs and encouraging people to use electric cars does accomplish a little. They do a little like Advil would do for you, if you had a brain tumor.

A true change will only occur in our society if everyone can afford to participate. Money is a big deal. The cost of things is a big deal . The fact that there are barriers to making money and that some people will never make the money to have a quality life is a big deal. No amount of incense, yoga or chanting is going to remove those big deals.

Housing in the L.A. work centers (in places that are safe) are unaffordable to the average person to buy or even rent.

Public transit to the LA work centers of downtown LA, Century City and West LA from Lancaster (71 miles from the closest work center) or Moreno Valley (63 miles from the closest work center) can be economically prohibitive and time consuming ($11+ one-way and a two-three hours ride from the Metrolink Station). And sadly it’s not rare for people to make these kinds of commutes in Los Angeles.

It is outrageous if you have children in order to survive you have to live that far from your job.

These are conversations that need to be no less integral than the topics of mobility and livability in the movement towards “environmental consciousness”. It is not going to be pleasant nor mindful, but they are conversations that need to happen. These are not separate issues. If only people who can afford to be green can do it, then the environmental movement is not going to be effective.


Because if this is what we were going for in regards to being green, I don’t think we are focused on the right kind of green.

by Browne Molyneux

Browne Molyneux is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles. She lives in downtown LA. She publishes the blog The Bus Bench, a satirical and editorial look at transportation and Los Angeles from the street. She also is the Tracks columnist for LA City Beat.