City Planners voted to increase single-room occupancy in multi-unit residential districts in Santa Monica, which increases density and standards of living in outdated housing.
Several buildings in the city (although the number is still uncertain according to the Rent Control Board) offer efficiency housing without kitchen space or bathroom facilities. Certain properties are less than 375 feet and share eight units to a bathroom. The City amended building codes to keep the existing units and increase tenants by allowing owners to update housing standards.
The Planning Commission approved the housing text amendment to support single-occupancy housing 6-1 with Commissioner Jason Parry as the only dissenter at the Nov. 17 meeting. The amendment will now be sent to the City Council for further approval.
A text amendment will allow single-room occupancy housing projects to be considered as “preferred permitted projects” in order to save applicants from individually applying for costly and time-consuming development agreements through the City. Staff wrote the amendment as proposed by applicant Tom Hacker. Basically this takes out some of the red tape to preserve and redesign older, multi-unit buildings.
Several properties in the city can’t enlarge units to include baths or kitchenettes without increasing the structure of the building, with the only option for some is to add a floor, said Ralph Mechur, architect by day and Santa Monica Malibu Unified School Board of Education member by night, as well as a representative for Hacker. Mechur said the amendment will sustain diversity for housing options in the city while supporting change for substandard living.
“It’s costly and one would have to walk in and see what is the benefit,” Mechur said. “I really do believe there really isn’t a significant amount of buildings that would fall into this, not many would want to come in and do this.”
Mechur represents one such project that wants to improve multiple tiny units in order to attract more tenants to a new, market-priced apartment. He reiterated that although this is a sweeping amendment that will affect about 14.5 percent of buildings in the city, they are not asking for anything above what is considered for other projects.
Commissioner Jim Reis warned against the possibility of neighbors appealing any permits to stop building due to design complaints. Commissioner Gerda Newbold countered that if the whims of neighbors took precedent in all building projects, most affordable–housing projects would never be built.
Newbold pushed for affected tenants to be able to secure rent control housing in similar units after remodeling. The currently proposed project that Mechur and applicant Hacker are representing will affect only four tenants. To preserve the housing and keep current tenants, Mechur said the units need simple luxuries such as bathrooms.
Commissioner Jason Parry pushed for another route of requiring projects to get development agreements, a sentiment that Winterer echoed so not to create “unintended consequences.” Parry furthered that an individual development agreement, although about the same cost as a text amendment, would only pertain to one project at a time allowing for more input from the Commission. Agreements also take the $10,000 fee for each project, unlike a sweeping one-time fee of the amendment.
Mechur explained that such a move would set them back at “square zero.”
Commissioner Hank Koning voiced the strongest support for the project, saying allowing multi-family projects to convert into single-resident housing addresses a community benefit. In an answer to Parry’s statement about the City pushing for preservation yet “incentivizing change,” Koning explained updates preserved residential housing from condo makeovers.
“This is not about change, but about preserving more of the quality of what’s there today and making it more habitable by today’s standards,” Koning said.