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Council Begins Exploring Ways to Triple Santa Monica's Affordable Housing

Bob Kronovetrealty
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Santa Monica

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By Jorge Casuso

March 26, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday will begin exploring ways to build more than 6,000 new affordable housing units in eight years -- triple the number it has built over the past quarter century.

The daunting task mandated by the State comes during a declared housing crisis as the COVID-19 shutdown highlights barriers to housing access, especially for minorities, staff said.

The final housing allocations adopted by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) earlier this month require Santa Monica to plan to build 8,895 new housing units by October 2029.

Of those, 6,168 must be affordable ("Santa Monica's Housing Target Finalized at Nearly 8,900 New Units," March 4, 2021).

The "significantly larger allocation" is "an opportunity for the City to take a leadership role in creating solutions to address affordable housing production and stability," City staff said in its report to the Council.

The mandate, which coincides with the City's Housing Element Update process also "presents an opportunity to reflect on and assess the City’s approach to affordable housing production," staff said.

Since the City's Affordable Housing Production Program (AHPP) -- rooted in a 1990 voter initiative -- was launched in 1994, a total of 2,034 affordable units have been produced.

Of those, private developments -- which must include affordable units on or off-site or fund their production -- have generated 817, or 40 percent of the affordable units.

The other 60 percent -- 1,217 units -- have been funded by the City, according to staff.

In an effort to triple the total number in a third of the time, the Council must earmark publicly owned sites in one of the nation's most expensive real estate markets.

Potential City owned sites include parcels surrounding the Downtown Santa Monica Expo Station, Parking Structure 3 and the former site of the proposed Plaza project the new Council rejected ("New Council Kills Plaza Project," December 15, 2020).

Other City owned sites include parking lots behind the stores on Main Street and along Wilshire Boulevard and the Bergamot Arts Center in the City's industrial area.

The areas outside the Downtown would need to be re-zoned "to provide significant affordable housing," staff said.

The Council could restrict development on the sites to 100 percent affordable housing projects, a step taken by the Los Angeles City Council in December.

"The City could enact a similar policy or alternatively, require a minimum number or percentage of affordable housing to be developed on City-owned sites," staff wrote.

Other publicly owned sites that don't belong to the City also should be considered, staff said.

These include the Department of Motor Vehicles site at 2235 Colorado Avenue, the Southern California Gas site at 1701 Stewart Street and the UCLA parking lot site at 1521 and 1601 Santa Monica Boulevard.

At its February 23 meeting, the Council directed staff "to ask all public entities to review highest/best use for their current properties throughout Santa Monica."

The Council also specifically demanded that the State commit the DMV site as suitable "for deed-restricted affordable housing development in Santa Monica’s housing element."

Other potential affordable housing sites include large surface parking lots that belong to religious congregations and “A”-Lots that support parking behind commercial corridors and serve as buffers to residential areas.

In addition to searching for potential sites, the Council this month voted to temporarily halt commercial development in zones that allow housing ("City Council Poised to Halt Commercial Development on Possible Housing Sites," March 3, 2021).

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