Only 34 affordable housing units were built last year in Santa Monica

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Santa Monica is under a mandate to ensure that 30 percent of all apartments and condos built within its city each year are affordable to tenants with low-to-moderate incomes.

But in the 2015-16 fiscal year, it came up short. According to the Santa Monica Lookout, only 19 percent, or 34 of the 175 units constructed, were “affordable.” (What’s considered affordable? A studio that’s designated low-income would rent for a maximum of $668 to a single-household earning no more than $48,650.)

Having a healthy stock of affordable housing is especially important in Santa Monica, which claims the highest rents of any Los Angeles city. The median monthly lease on a two-bedroom there is $4,450, according to pricing data from Apartment List.

The requirement to build affordable housing came from voters, who in 1990, adopted Proposition R. The city has had a hard time getting to that number. The city’s housing manager, Barbara Collins, told the Lookout that: “In 22 years, the City has met the 30 percent minimum benchmark only half of the time.”

(There is no penalty for failing to provide enough affordable housing, the Lookout says.)

It’s a critical time to talk about affordable housing. Voters are deciding right now on a ballot measure that, if passed on November 8, would freeze major construction projects in Santa Monica. It would do that by requiring most new construction over two-stories tall to be approved by voters. Measure LV, also known as the LUVE was written by activists who say big buildings are creating too much traffic and changing the character of the beach city. (Housing projects with fewer than 50 units that are 100 percent affordable would be exempt).

But planning experts have said the measure would be detrimental to building affordable housing, because it would discourage developers from building at all. And, right now, one of the reasons rental prices are high is because there’s not enough housing. Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said Measure LV would make it “virtually impossible to continue Santa Monica’s commitment to affordable housing.”

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