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Plan to Put Affordable Housing in Single-Family Neighborhoods Likely Dead

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

June 11, 2021 -- A plan that would pave the way for affordable housing projects in most Santa Monica single-family neighborhoods lacks the support to win City Council approval.

The plan would allow 100 percent affordable housing projects of up to four stories in an overlay zone that covers all R1 areas except in Ocean Park and the Pico Neighborhood, which have a history of redlining and environmental injustice.

The affordable housing overlay zone -- which the Council will take up on Tuesday when it reviews the draft Housing Element -- was given an initial go-ahead with a 4 to 3 vote in late March ("Divided Council Approves Plan to Meet State's Affordable Housing Mandate," April 6, 2021).

Jones of the Bay

Since the vote, Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who supported the plan, abruptly retired from the Council; the Planning Commission recommended that the plan be "significantly modified" and City staff concluded that it is unfeasible given the cost of land.

"Permitting additional units within the existing R1 envelopes is unlikely to produce new multifamily development due to the high cost of R1 parcels and limited sellable area," staff wrote in its report to the Council.

Staff found that most of the limited research that addresses the issue "indicates that the zoning changes have resulted in increased property values but has not produced additional units."

The conclusion comes as no surprise to neighborhood groups and developer representatives who often disagree on development issues but found common ground in opposing the overlay zone.

The plan, said land use attorney Dave Rand, "was born of the best intentions and will die on the altar of political reality."

"Given the political toxicity, if that becomes formally adopted, I'll parade naked down Santa Monica Boulevard," he said. "It's highly unlikely."

In a letter to the City Council, Northeast Neighbors warned against the overlay, which they said is part of a hastily developed Housing Element proposal that was "generated in less than a year."

"What it will succeed in doing is driving up the cost of housing as land speculators buy and developers destroy existing homes," the neighborhood group wrote.

This will create "density that removes the urban canopy and burdens infrastructure, including water and sewage and schools."

Staff is recommending that the Council look at Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADU), commonly known as "granny flats," which "are affordable by design," as an alternative way of adding housing units in single-family zones.

"The construction of new ADUs in recent years has increased housing opportunities in single-family zones, areas which have traditionally been out of reach for renters," staff wrote in its report.

The draft Housing Element outlines a plan to build 8,895 new units in eight years mandated by the State.

Of those, 6,168 must be affordable -- triple the number of affordable units the city has added in the past quarter century ("Council Begins Exploring Ways to Triple Santa Monica's Affordable Housing," March 26, 2021).

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