LA Needs A Housing Boom

Stephen J. Smith of Next City and Market Urbanism recently published some great visualizations of growth in American cities since 1940, using animated GIFs created by Ian Rees (@woolie).

These graphics make the need for a large increase in housing supply abundantly clear, and I want to look at the LA images in more detail.


Growth between 1940 and 1950 was somewhat muted by World War 2, but in the 1950s, the suburban boom really took off.


There’s growth all over the Valley, South Bay, and the Gateway Cities. The initial wave of suburbanization takes off in Orange County, and advances into the San Gabriel Valley as well.

Counter to the “LA is sprawl” narrative, there’s also a considerable amount of growth in built-up areas like Santa Monica, Venice, Long Beach, Hollywood, and what’s now Koreatown.


Here’s the graphic for the 1960s.


Suburbanization in the Valley advances to Santa Clarita and Simi Valley, while construction in the Valley falls off. However, there’s still a considerable amount of apartment growth in places like Reseda, Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, and Panorama City.

Construction in southeast LA County tails off, while suburbanization in Orange County pushes south.

Note that there’s still a ton of construction in Koreatown, Hollywood, Sunset Strip, Santa Monica, and Venice, and a continuing boom in Inglewood and Hawthorne.


The same trend continues into the 1970s.


Notice that in the 1970s, there’s actually an intensification of growth in the Valley, especially in Warner Center and the previously mentioned areas. Growth in Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena also occurs.

Further east, the southern San Gabriel Valley and Pomona Valley start to grow.

Santa Monica and Venice continue to boom, and Palms is on an absolute tear, as are the beach cities of South Bay and Long Beach. Koreatown, Hollywood, and Sunset Strip all keep seeing a lot of construction.

In Orange County, suburbanization advances into Tustin and Irvine, but previously built-up areas continue to grow too.


In the 1980s, there’s still a lot of building going on, but you can start to see the wheels coming off, thanks to widespread downzonings.


The Valley and Santa Clarita keep growing much as they did in the 1970s, as do Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena. In the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, Diamond Bar and Chino Hills start to grow.

Thing start to quiet off on the Westside, but Santa Monica, Venice, West LA, and Palms still see growth. Koreatown keeps growing, but Hollywood and Sunset Strip decline noticeably.

Similarly, Long Beach and the South Bay beach cities see some growth, but a noticeable drop off. Meanwhile Hawthorne keeps growing.

With the exception of Irvine, things get much quieter in Orange County.


The 1990s are sort of LA’s lost decade, thanks to a punishing recession from 1990-1994 associated with defense spending cutbacks. The lackluster growth is somewhat forgivable in that regard.


Koreatown, Hollywood, and North Hollywood see growth, but at a much lower level, as does Panorama City. Irvine and Tustin are about the only thing going on in Orange County. In the San Gabriel Valley and South Bay, it’s crickets. On the Westside, only West LA, Palms, and downtown Santa Monica see noticeable growth.


In contrast to the 1990s, the 2000s were a time of prosperity and rising prices. There’s no excuse for construction to be this low.


There’s a little pick up in Warner Center, Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood, Burbank, and Pasadena. Koreatown and Downtown grow, but Hollywood construction falls off. On the Westside, there’s West LA, Palms, Marina del Rey, and Playa del Ray, but that’s it. There’s a suffocating lack of growth in southeastern LA County and the San Gabriel Valley, and except Irvine, Orange County isn’t much better.

Here’s the animated graphic with neighborhood overlays. (Update: to get the animated gif to display in the post, I had to rescale it to a smaller size. Drop me an email if you want the original size.)


LA Needs a Housing Boom Everywhere

This is why we’re in the hole we’re in on affordability. And when you’re in a hole, one of the first things you can do to help yourself is stop digging. We have a 20 year deficit of construction to try to make up. Increasing supply isn’t a cure for all our housing issues, but I don’t see how we have a chance of solving other issues without it.

This growth can’t be only in a few favored neighborhoods like Downtown and Hollywood. We need new housing everywhere – the Valley, the Westside, South Bay, southeastern LA County, Orange County, the San Gabriel Valley – everywhere.


13 thoughts on “LA Needs A Housing Boom

  1. LAifer

    How does this change? Seems to me the biggest issue is zoning. Our current restrictions on development – however well-intentioned they are – create such a high hurdle for developers (who, btw, built all the housing we live in presently) that only a handful will really push the envelope. There’s little opportunity for homeowners to add housing into their existing properties because of restrictions on multi-family dwellings, and minimum parking requirements force all new housing to provide tons of parking, regardless of its necessity.

    1. letsgola Post author

      Getting things to change is a big challenge, the next step after just getting people to realize the scope of the problem.

      Many cities have really tried to have their cake and eat it to – increasing housing supply while protecting affluent SFR neighborhoods from any impacts. This is an unfair approach in my opinion: it drives up housing prices in some desirable neighborhoods by restricting supply, while poor neighborhoods are forced to deal with gentrification. I really like the pattern of development before 1980, where there was growth all over the place, and that’s what I’d like to see again.

      One suggestion for that would be a zoning option that permits a controlled amount of development across neighborhoods that haven’t had any development in decades. Another option would be for action at the state level (and indeed, the state has already forced a little more development through SB1818, and Toronto’s housing boom is driven by province-level policies that force it to allow development).

      In CA, that might take shape in a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) that actually has teeth. The existing RHNA requires each city to show that it has enough land zoned for denser development to allow housing growth to accommodate the city’s share of regional population growth. Aside from the inherent contradiction in projecting how much housing you need based on how much population growth you expect (because the second is obviously going to be impacted by the first), the RHNA is pretty weak in practice. You can satisfy it by upzoning in areas of the city where there’s no demand or where it’s impossible to take advantage of the zoning profitably.

      A more powerful RHNA might do something like require a minimum percentage growth in housing stock, with higher median prices in the neighborhood correlating to higher required growth. Cities that don’t meet that growth would pay a per unit fine into an affordable housing construction fund. Like the other option, this wouldn’t “force” any SFR neighborhoods to upzone, but it would require them to take the impact of slow growth into consideration.

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  3. johnberk

    “When you’re in a hole, one of the first things you can do to help yourself is to stop digging”

    Sometimes I think that the best solution would be construction of affordable housing… But people see just money and are not interested in big solutions to current problems. Their strategy – build a fence and hire a security. They don’t care about imminent problems we are facing today in every big city around the world, which is the increase of housing price accompanied by only low increases in wages for middle and low class families. How are we expected to believe that it will change? I try to support affordable housing, but without clear and strong support from government, only little can be achieved.

    Your article is a good and thoughtful contribution to the current discussion, clearly showing where the problem lies. I hope more people will realize that the time to do something is NOW.

    1. letsgola Post author

      Thanks for the comment. It’s good to note that there are many approaches to the problem. Most of the current debate has focused on upzoning and downzoning, but the government could also, as it has done in the past, financially back the construction of more housing.

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  6. shreejit Modak

    i am very intrigued by the study of density on Los Angeles. I am studying polycentrism and have taken Los Angeles as one of the case studies. I am very interested in the video where you have put all the densities according to the years together. could you share with me please.

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