Increased demand for housing is spurring an apartment building boom
By Gary Walker
Single-family homes have long been a defining characteristic of Westchester, which some residents refer to as Mayberry for preserving its Midwestern suburban feel despite its Los Angeles zip code.
But word got around, homebuyers priced out of trendier Westside neighborhoods got in, and between the summer of 2012 and the summer of 2017, the median sale price of a two-bedroom home in Westchester jumped from $515,000 to more than $1 million, according trulia.com real estate data.
Now it appears apartment builders are looking to cash in on rising Westchester rental prices, with several major multi-unit projects poised to increase density in what was until recently a bedroom community.
Across from The Coffee Co. at the corner of La Tijera Boulevard and Sepulveda Eastway, the CIM Group real estate firm is constructing a five-story apartment complex with as many as 136 units.
At the northwest corner Sepulveda Boulevard and Manchester Avenue, which is one of Westchester’s most heavily traveled intersections, Caladan Investments LLC hopes to replace the former Grinder Restaurant behind Jiffy Lube with a five-story mixed-use complex containing 87 apartments.
There are 180 units planned for 6711 S. Sepulveda Blvd., near HHLA (formerly the Promenade at Howard Hughes), and a developer is proposing to replace the former Buggy Whip steakhouse at La Tijera and W. 74th St. with a 94-unit apartment building.
In other words, supply is rising to meet growing demand — as indicated by median rental price increases tracked by apartmentlist.com.
At the start of 2014, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Westchester was $1,605 per month, while a two-bedroom unit went for $2,062.
Last month the website’s real estate analysts calculated Westchester’s median monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit at $2,062 — what renters were paying for two bedrooms in 2014 — and a two-bedroom unit at $2,650.
Stephanie Younger, the team leader of the Stephanie Younger Group in Westchester, has a term for what she believes is driving higher home prices in Westchester: “the Silicon Beach phenomenon,” or high-income earners drawn to the Westside’s burgeoning tech sector.
“Playa Vista has become a bridge to the Westside, and Westchester has become more attractive because it’s now seen as part of the Westside. There’s been a big influx of commerce and retail in West-
chester, and people want to live closer to where they work,” Younger explained.
James Suarez, founder and CEO of Fineman Suarez Real Estate Team in Marina del Rey, said word of mouth has helped drive up interest in Westchester property, especially among families.
“At one time Westchester was one of those sleeper neighborhoods,” said Suarez, who lives in Westchester, “but with the Silicon Beach movement more families have exploded into the community.”
And Suarez doesn’t think the upsurge in home prices or rents over the last three years is going to slow down any time soon.
The rental market “has had a tremendous run and I feel that it will continue,” Suarez said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
According to Younger, some high-income tech workers are choosing to rent instead of buy, and landlords know they can afford to pay higher rents for nicer apartments.
“Even people who are earning high incomes still have to have a significant down payment for a house. So, from an amenities perspective, some people who are putting a high value on a nice luxury apartment because of the lack of responsibilities that would come with home ownership,” Younger said. “It’s a lifestyle choice.”
Several of the new apartment buildings under construction are close to the Westchester Town Center Business Improvement District along Sepulveda Boulevard. Younger said that if new residents in the La Tijera Apartments begin to frequent adjacent businesses, the increased foot traffic could activate a commercial area that some civic leaders have been eyeing for a facelift.
“It has the potential to make the local retail more attractive to potential new tenants and bring in increasingly more attractive retail,” Younger said.
Tracy Thrower Conyers, president of the Kentwood Home Guardians, a Westchester homeowners association, is not as bullish on La Tijera Apartments, citing neighbors’ complaints about the project and its density.
“That project is a disgrace to our community. It’s worse than I ever imagined,” she asserted. “The only upside that I see to these projects is if we are attracting the higher-income renters, maybe we can attract more higher-scale amenities.”
While Younger is not sure of the new project will cause an apartment glut, Thrower Conyers thinks she knows why density has begun to increase in Westchester.
“The problem for Westchester and Playa del Rey is we have not had a community update since Playa Vista came on line. We have not taken a global look at the traffic,” said Thrower Conyers, who is also a real estate agent.
Denny Schneider, a public transportation advocate and resident of east Westchester for more than 40 years, once eagerly anticipated new development. But now he’s near his wit’s end with the current and future density of his community.
“Our traffic conditions have gone from bad to worse to very bad with total gridlock,” said Schneider. “If this keeps up, I’m thinking about moving.”