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Adding More Affordable Housing to Lincoln Boulevard Project Unlikely  

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 3, 2017 -- A last-minute possibility of adding more affordable housing to a five-story mixed-use apartment project planned for Lincoln Boulevard isn't getting support from City planners, who say the idea is neither legal nor necessary.

The project -- two buildings at 1613-1637 Lincoln totaling 155,425 square feet -- has reached its final stage of City approval and goes to the City Planning Commission on Wednesday.

If approved, the project would include 191 apartments, of which 15 are earmarked as “affordable” for "extremely low" income earners, or renters earning a maximum of $18,250 for a household of one to $40,890 for a household of eight. The rest of the units are market rate.

Another 11,756 square feet at ground level is reserved for commercial uses above three underground levels that accommodate 388 parking spaces.

Proposed by FSTAR developers, the project is one of several mixed-use apartment/commercial complexes in the development pipeline for Lincoln, which City officials hope to transform from a heavily trafficked business corridor to one earmarked for a community of apartment dwellers ("Another Step This Week in Transformation of Santa Monica's Lincoln Boulevard," September 20, 2016).

Final action on the project was delayed last month after members of the Planning Commission asked whether more affordable housing could be required, especially for the lowest income earners.

The answer? No, according to a report on that and other issues by Jing Yeo, City planning division manager.

The commission must “accept whatever level of affordability is proposed by the applicant” in this case, Yeo’s report to the commission said.

The project meets zoning requirements and a City law mandating at least 30 percent of a new housing development be deemed affordable, she said.

Squeezing in more affordable housing is also nearly impossible because the Lincoln development is a “Tier 2” project that requires only a “Discretionary Review” permit -- less flexible under the law than Development Agreements, which are individually negotiated with the City Council.

Several projects that required DAs were down-shifted in recent months to become DRs.

That change, however, poses a serious conundrum for critics who say the council allowed too much development by leaning on DAs. Using DRs instead, however, restricts the power of negotiation on such issues as demanding more affordable units from builders.

Yeo said the commission could try to require the developer to earmark more of the affordable units for a category of renters who aren’t as financially hard-pressed, but still qualify.

But there isn’t “sufficient evidence” of that need, the report said.

Instead, the need is still most urgent for those in the category of “extremely low,” which is defined as earning only 30 percent of the area median income.

“According to the Housing Division, a large number of the applicants with the highest priority on the City’s affordable housing master waiting list consist of 30 percent income households, and as such, is where the City currently finds its highest unmet need,” the report said.

The commission is also asking that affordable units be more “equitably” spread between the two buildings.


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