Modified Ordinance Aims To Increase Santa Monica Housing Affordability

Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013, 9:23:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

A modified ordinance that could make it easier for developers to move through the approval process was officially put on the books last month.

The Santa Monica City Council officially approved an ordinance giving developers a fast track to an administrative approval in exchange for building more affordable units.

The ordinance modification cleared its second reading at the council’s Feb. 26 meeting; two weeks earlier, four out of five council members present voted in favor of the ordinance. Council member Bob Holbrook was the sole nay vote.

During the Feb. 12 council meeting Council member Kevin McKeown said the spirit of allowing developers the shortest time possible from proposal to construction was to give them an incentive to provide as much affordable housing as possible “without giving the farm away.”

“The goal of this is to produce affordable housing,” Council member Gleam Davis added.

Indeed, the modified ordinance calls for any developer seeking to build a project in Santa Monica of 50 or fewer units to be exempted from council approval if 25 percent of the units were reserved for prospective tenants earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income, or AMI.

Accordingly, if at least 13 units of a proposed 50-unit project would be available to tenants who earn 60 percent or less than the AMI of the surrounding area, the developer would not have to approach council members for a development agreement. Instead, the developer would be able to obtain an administrative approval, which is basically a green light from city planners.

Prior to the modification of the ordinance, developers of projects of 50 or fewer units could have bypassed the city council if all of the units were available to tenants earning 80 percent of AMI.

“The proposed modification is intended to provide a greater mix in housing affordability levels and addresses the City’s need for low, very low and extremely low affordable housing units,” City staff stated.

Under the newly modified ordinance, City staff added “units serving moderate income households would be limited to 75 percent of the total mix.”

A moderate income household is one earning no more than 80 percent of AMI.

The modified ordinance retroactively took effect for all projects that had not received administrative approvals before Jan. 8. Accordingly, five proposed projects on the development agreement docket would be affected by the ordinance modification.

City Hall and the council sought to find ways to maintain affordable housing within Santa Monica after the loss of redevelopment funds.

“Offering administrative approval is a valuable tool for the City to achieve desired housing goals,” City staff said. “With the loss of Redevelopment funds previously used toward the creation of affordable housing, it is critical that the City find alternative ways to address the housing needs of low income individuals and families.”

City staff added, “The incentive to create moderate-income affordable housing units has been effective. However, it is important that the City’s housing stock continue to offer a mix in housing affordability levels.”

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