Be prepared to take an encyclopedia with you to the ballot box this November. No, Wikipedia will not help you sift through the smorgasbord of issues and candidates Santa Monica voters will have to decide upon in this year’s general election, as yet another initiative is approved for the November ballot. The issue: funding for affordable housing.
Council members approved July 8, by a 5 to 1 vote, a ballot measure that could infuse as much as $10 million annually into affordable housing. Should a majority of voters support the funding on Nov. 4, the money would be greatly welcome in Santa Monica, where City staff made it clear options to maintain and support affordable housing are about as dry as the farmlands in California’s central valley.
Andy Agle, the City’s housing and economic development director, told council members last week that Santa Monica recently provided an average of $15 million in annual funding for affordable housing. However, since the loss of redevelopment funds in 2012, the funding has virtually disappeared.
“With the dissolution of redevelopment, the flow of funds that can be invested in affordable housing, as well as the City’s ability to leverage outside funding, has been radically diminished. Current budget projections show less than $1 million per year available for affordable housing production and preservation in the coming years,” City staff stated. “With such limited funding, it will take the City several years to accrue sufficient funds to support one affordable housing preservation or production opportunity.”
With no other real solution on the horizon, the ballot measure would ask Santa Monica voters if they would support a “real estate transfer tax.” The tax would be assessed on any homes sold in Santa Monica at $1 million or more.
Specifically, $9 for every $1,000 of the sale price would be collected and reserved for affordable housing funding.
So, if someone sold his or her house in Santa Monica for $1,000,000, he or she would be on the hook for a $9,000 transfer tax. City staff stated this transfer tax would generate between $4 million and $10.2 million annually.
If ultimately approved, council members believed the ballot initiative would help City Hall do a better job at providing affordable housing opportunities instead of depending upon real estate developers and the private sector fill the void.
A telephone survey conducted amongst Santa Monica registered voters in April found about 56 percent of respondents believed, according to City staff, “there is a great need or some need for additional funding to provide affordable housing in Santa Monica.”
“A majority of survey respondents expressed some level of support for increasing the real estate transfer tax from $3 to $9 per thousand dollars of sales value for properties sold over one million dollars,” City staff stated.
Since the ballot measure proposes a general tax, only a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) is needed to advance the measure. Voters will vote on whether or not they want the tax to exist in the first place and also on a companion measure to direct the increased monies from the tax to be specifically used for affordable housing.
The sole “no” vote was Council member Bob Holbrook. Mayor pro tem Terry O’Day was absent from the vote.