Santa Monica always has been in the forefront of protecting and producing affordable homes. When Santa Monica passed its landmark rent control law on April 10, 1979, we took a bold step to preserve affordable housing for seniors, families and others. In 1990, when we passed Measure R, we codified our commitment by mandating that 30 percent of all new housing be affordable.
Santa Monicans embraced these laws because they understand that affordable housing is the key to preserving the diversity and character that makes Santa Monica so special. We know that having affordable places to live allows seniors to age in place with dignity, makes it possible for working families to live near their jobs and allows the children of our city to return to the community in which they grew up.
In Santa Monica, we don’t just give lip service to affordable housing; we build it. Why? Because housing is a basic right and the well documented housing supply crisis we face in our city, our region and our state threatens the ability of current residents to stay in their homes and our overall neighborhood stability.
Our failure to build new homes affects real people: The twentysomething who can’t move back to her childhood neighborhood after college because no new homes have been built there for a decade. The working mom who loses hours that she could be spending with her children to her commute because her salary won’t cover the rent for an apartment near her job in Santa Monica. The elderly widower who wants to move from his larger and now mostly empty home to a smaller apartment near his children and grandchildren. The young couple who needs a home with a third bedroom so their children have quiet space for homework. The single dad working as a dishwasher in a Downtown Santa Monica restaurant who wants his kids to have a better shot in life than he did. We have a real challenge ahead of us. Recently, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) a nonpartisan group charged with analyzing the state’s annual budget and major policy issue documented the extent of the housing supply crisis and pointed out that, in Los Angeles County alone, we have fallen about one million homes behind what we need.
“Rising home prices and rents are a signal that more households would like to live in an area than there is housing to accommodate them. Housing developers typically respond to this excess demand by building additional housing. This does not appear to be true, however, in California’s coastal metros,” the report notes.
In Santa Monica, since 1960, we have seen our population increase by less than 10,000 people. We, like other coastal communities, are growing very slowly. Because of that, rents and home prices along California’s coast are unattainable for many of the people who would like to live here.
“The greatest need for additional housing is in California’s coastal urban areas,” the LAO report says.
While the report asks the state legislature to take steps to assure new homes get built in these areas, we can start doing our part to solve the problem.
Santa Monica’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), adopted unanimously in 2010 as the guiding vision for our community’s future, anticipates that we will add 4,955 new homes by 2030.
It is a modest goal, but it’s part of a cooperative effort with other cities in the region to alleviate our dire shortage of homes. If we resist even this modest amount of growth, we only will exacerbate the problem and lose even more ground on affordability.
We need to provide homes of varying sizes that are affordable to a wide range of people, including very low income households. But we also need to make sure that middle class people and families have places to live.
Preservation of existing neighborhoods and our rent-controlled homes depends on providing opportunities for creating new neighborhoods where there are currently no apartments or houses to displace.
Santa Monica is an incredible city. People want to live here and will pay a premium to do so. But those people who can afford that premium will always be able to out bid lower income people for the same, small supply of housing.
If we don’t build along the boulevards and in formerly commercial zones, that problem will never get any better because wealthier renters will have no other options but to vie for a spot in older, rent-controlled apartments.
Speculators will begin to purchase property in existing neighborhoods, use the Ellis Act to remove existing housing, and build anew. Unfortunately, state law makes the City powerless to stop this. All the City can do is try and refocus demand to live in Santa Monica away from existing neighborhoods.
While Santa Monica cannot, nor should it, solve the state’s housing crisis alone, we must actively be a part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem. We won’t stop people from moving to our region nor will we stop children from being born here. However, we can decide whether those people will have homes.
Will our decisions today make the Santa Monica of tomorrow a place where all our children not just the wealthiest have an opportunity to live a high quality of life?
Santa Monica has always had good conversations about these issues. Let’s make sure that these decisions are made with open minds, clear facts and a sense that we are all in this together. We shouldn’t let the selfish motivations or the extremism of some get in the way of moving all of us forward together as one city.
Joanne Bonner Leavitt
for Santa Monica Forward