LOS ANGELES - With L.A. in a housing crisis, a downtown developer sued the city in February to evade its affordable-housing rules. Today groups filed papers in L.A. Superior Court to prevent G.H. Palmer Associates from shutting downtown's doors to low- and middle-income Angelenos.

"Angelenos have their backs against the wall, and we should be increasing affordable housing, not tearing down laws that protect it," said Alvivon Hurd, a board member of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which represents residents who would be harmed if the lawsuit succeeds. "The housing crisis is driving this city's working and middle class out of its future."

The ACLU of Southern California, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Western Center on Law and Poverty seek to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of ACORN and the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing (SCANPH), which includes nearly all of the non-profit affordable-housing developers in the Los Angeles area.

At issue are L.A.'s "inclusionary zoning" rules for the Central City West area of downtown, adopted in 1991 and intended to help replace affordable apartments lost to redevelopment in the heart of the city. The law requires developers to devote 15% of their apartments to people who make less than $40,000 a year, or to help make such housing available elsewhere. The developer suing the city is seeking to build a 340-unit building exempt from the 15-year-old rule. Similar rules are in effect at 33 redevelopment areas scattered throughout the city.

"The law of the highest bidder will be a nightmare for this city, not just for its poorest residents but for the middle class struggling to hang on," said ACLU/SC staff attorney Peter Bibring. "A clean, safe apartment shouldn't just be a dream for Los Angeles residents, it should be a basic right."

Rents at one of G.H. Palmer Associates' apartment buildings in the downtown area start at $2,265, according to the Los Angeles Times. The average two-bedroom L.A. apartment costs $1,426. The national norm for rent is 30 percent of a couple's income, and an L.A. family would need to earn $57,040 to afford the city average. A couple earning minimum wage would need to work more than 70 hours a week each.

Between 2001 and 2006, the City lost nearly 11,000 affordable-housing units due to condominium conversions of rent stabilized units and other reasons, and has been unable to replace them at the same rate.

Since 1974, more than 120 cities and counties throughout California have adopted inclusionary zoning ordinances as an effective means of addressing the critical shortage of affordable housing.