A Look At The Biennial Budget's Affordable Housing, Economic Development Initiatives

Wednesday, 12 Jun 2013, 9:14:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

In one week, the Santa Monica City Council votes on the proposed Biennial Budget.

With the prospect of City Hall operating at a deficit by the time the proposed Biennial Budget expires in 2015, several departments have sought ways to make cuts to its operations without sacrificing essential services.

One of those departments, Housing and Economic Development, requested $23 million in funding, including $5 million from the General Fund, to execute its initiatives and maintain its operation.

Andy Agle, the head of Housing and Economic Development, told Council members during his presentation the department’s key mission is to ensure the City’s economy is healthy in various sectors while also finding ways to fund affordable housing initiatives within Santa Monica.

One key element of the affordable housing mission: the City’s compliance with Prop. R, which requires developers to set aside 30 percent of the housing projects they bring to Santa Monica for low- to moderate-income residents.

Agle told Council members about 36 percent of all housing produced in Santa Monica since the adoption of Prop. R are affordable housing units.

However, complicating the City’s mission to sustain affordable housing is the loss of redevelopment funding.

“In the coming two years, we’ll continue to pursue our department mission of creating affordable housing opportunities and a sustainable economy here in Santa Monica,” Agle told Council members.

“We’ll do that by providing direct rental assistance to (more than) 1,300 low-income households, supporting the production and preservation of affordable housing, leasing and licensing the City’s property assets, implementing the City’s real estate transactions, supporting four Business Improvement Districts, operating four weekly Farmers Markets, and overseeing the wind-down of redevelopment activities,” Agle continued.

Agle pointed out some initiatives the new budget would support.

Several affordable housing developments would be complete within the next two years, Agle pointed out. The completion of these projects would bring 100 new affordable units to Santa Monica by 2015.

However, since redevelopment money was a primary source of funding affordable housing projects, Agle said the pipeline to finance more units for lower-income households would dry up pretty quickly.

“As a result, we’ll pursue leveraging opportunities as well as exploring new funding options, including permanent local funding,” Agle said.

To help shore up some funding for affordable housing program, Agle said his department is looking into assessing some developers a nexus fee. The money raised from that fee could be turned around to fund non-profits, such as Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM), to build affordable housing projects in the City.

Council member Tony Vazquez suggested Agle’s department look into possibly parting with Century Housing. The agency, which has an office in Culver City, regularly finances housing projects. Vazquez pondered if City Hall might consider accepting a bridge loan from Century Housing to help fund affordable housing projects in Santa Monica.

Beyond affordable housing, Agle’s department must also focus on “Economic Development.” Some of the economic development projects the department will pursue, Agle said, include a new cinematic experience in the downtown core and Expo-friendly initiatives to help increase the City’s revenue.

The primary change in the Housing and Economic Development budget, according to Agle, is a 25 percent reduction in the department’s General Fund allocation. Agle pointed out the reduction in funding is tied to the loss of redevelopment funding and the loss of eight members of its staff.

Another adjustment the Housing and Economic Development staff had to make to reduce the department’s General Fund hit: reshuffle some beneficiaries of the Senior Housing Voucher program to other programs.

Also to be reduced is the department’s budget for prevailing wage monitoring for affordable housing construction projects.

Finally, Agle proposed reducing the Farmers Market Special Events budget.

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