Santa Monica will force developers to build more affordable apartments, condos in Downtown

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The Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday to require developers to make 20 to 30 percent of all new condos and apartments built in Downtown affordable for low-income earners, the Santa Monica Lookout reports. That’s the highest percentage in the state, says the Lookout.

The council’s vote was split 4 to 3.

The new affordable housing requirements—which will apply to all new multi-family housing—were approved as part of Santa Monica’s Downtown Community Plan. The plan allows for more than 3 million square feet of new development in the beach city’s downtown.

The plan originally called for 15 percent to 20 percent affordable units in new projects. The idea of raising the requirement to between 20 to 30 percent (depending on a building’s height) was explored earlier this month.

A study conducted by the city’s consultants found that the higher affordable housing requirements would still allow developers to profit, but many projects would produce “only ‘marginal’ returns,” says the Lookout.

Developers say the new requirements will make building housing unaffordable for them. The 30-percent ceiling tells developers, “Do not come here,” said land use attorney Dave Rand of Armbruster, Goldsmith and Delvac. “Do not build here. Thirty percent of nothing is nothing.”

Supporters, including city manager Rick Cole and Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer, said that though the new mandate is high, it would remain attractive to developers because of other newly adopted measures—the elimination of parking requirements, a sped-up approvals process, and added housing incentives—which would help keep costs down.

“Let’s give everybody a chance to see how it works,” Winterer said.

Though the 30 percent mark is high for the state, it’s actually not the first time it’s been the standard in Santa Monica, writes former Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Frank Gruber on his blog (seen via Santa Monica Next). Gruber notes:

I’d say that these numbers are unprecedented, but in fact they would bring Santa Monica back to where it was in the early 1990s, when it had a 30 percent requirement. For those without long memories, the results of that requirement were (i) no housing got built, and (ii) housing developers sued the City and won, and the City had to revise its zoning so that housing could be built.”

The Lookout notes that of the 2,500 units anticipated to be built by 2030, 906 would be exempt from the new affordable housing requirement, because they filed their applications before the cut-off date in November 2016. If those projects come to fruition, they’ll only have to meet a 20 percent requirement.

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