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Council Approves Draft Housing Plan to Build More than 6,000 New Affordable Units

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

June 16, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday approved a housing plan that relies on public land and funding to build more than 6,100 affordable housing units over the next eight years.

After intense pushback, the Council shot down two proposals that would have paved the way for building some of those state-mandated units in single-family neighborhoods.

Approved by a 4 to 1 vote, the draft Housing Element Update lays out a plan to meet Santa Monica's ambitious requirement to build 8,895 new units, about 6,138 of them affordable, by 2029.

“Our City Council has embraced the concept of 100 percent affordable housing on city-owned land," said Mayor Sue Himmelrich, who was joined in the vote by the three slow-growth councilmembers elected in November.

It is "a concept that can be a foundation for robust affordable housing production for all communities, particularly those with high land costs,” Himmelrich said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Jones of the Bay

The state mandated quota is triple the number of affordable units the City has built over the past quarter century ("Council Begins Exploring Ways to Triple Santa Monica's Affordable Housing," March 26, 2021).

Private developers have easily met previous quotas for market-rate units and are expected to do so again, but the new plan is not relying on their help meet the affordable housing target.

Instead it is coming up with alternate plans laid out in the draft Housing Element it will send to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

Among the initiatives proposed are allowing one additional auxiliary dwelling unit (ADU), commonly known as a "granny flat," on single-unit parcels in R1 zones that have been largely unaffordable to renters.

The plan also allows moderate-income 100 percent affordable housing projects in targeted areas of the City, such as the Downtown and Bergamot areas and the immediate half-mile area around the 17th Street Expo light rail station.

In addition, the plan adopts standards that would allow developments with at least 50 percent affordable units on surface parking lots owned by religious congregations.

The Council, however, removed from the plan an overlay zone in single-family neighborhoods that would have allowed 100 percent affordable housing projects of up to four stories ("Plan to Put Affordable Housing in Single-Family Neighborhoods Likely Dead," June 11, 2021) .

The overlay excluded R1 areas in Ocean Park and the Pico Neighborhood, which have a history of redlining and environmental injustice.

The Council also removed a program to rezone selected portions of R-1 neighborhoods to increase density.

Councilmember Gleam Davis, who supported opening up single family neighborhoods to affordable housing projects, said the plan fails to meet the State's requirement to address historic discrimination and satisfy Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.

"I think the removal of any concrete intentional steps to address exclusionary zoning is a fatal flaw," said Davis, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

"We are being asked by the State to address decades of intentional discrimination, and the only way we are going to address that is with intentional inclusion," Davis said.

Mayor Himmelrich countered Davis' claim with a list if groundbreaking initiatives the City has taken to support affordable housing. Davis took offense, saying she never questioned the City's prior commitment.

Himmelrich tried to respond, but City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren noted that only a dissenting member can explain their vote.

In her statement Wednesday, Himmelrich, who had previously supported placing affordable housing in R1 zones, revisited the issue.

“This Council understands that our community is more diverse because of our leadership in the production of affordable housing, and our direction is intended to help make that possible while also complying with state mandates on housing production overall,” she said.

Councilmember Kristin McCowan, who voted in March to include the changes in the single family zones, was absent from the meeting ("Divided Council Approves Plan to Meet State's Affordable Housing Mandate," April 6, 2021).

The California Department of Housing and Community Development will review the draft update and send its comments to the Council, which must adopt the Housing Element before October 15.

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