In Search of Solutions to Our Housing Affordability Crisis

Via Santa Monica Forward

Last week, Santa Monica’s Housing Commission published several draft reports on our city’s housing affordability crisis, laying out the scope of the problem and potential solutions.

Santa Monica Forward would like to reiterate its strong support for the production and preservation of affordable housing in our city. We would also like to thank the Commission for its efforts in researching, defining, and offering some solutions for Santa Monica’s dire housing affordability crisis.

While we appreciate the efforts on the part of the Commission to attempt to lay out a strategy for addressing our current housing crisis, we do believe the draft reports are lacking. Specifically, we should not downplay the vital role the city’s Affordable Housing Production Program has played in creating affordable homes in Santa Monica, and, we must look at the broader context and causes of the current crisis.

In the past year, President Obama has sought advice on how the United States, one of most inequitable advanced economies in the world, can once again be a place of opportunity for all.

A recent white paper by Jason Furman, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, a group selected by President Obama to analyze and interpret economic developments and advise him on issues of national economic importance, illustrated that throughout the country, local no-growth housing policies have been widening the gap between rich and poor by increasingly making it harder for middle- and low-income workers to access homes near quality jobs.

Furman’s findings were echoed by New York Times columnist and distinguished economist Paul Krugman recently. And, last year, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan State office based in Sacramento that provides fiscal and policy advice to state lawmakers, published a report that outlined, in great detail, the negative impact of decades of minimal-growth housing policies on our state’s coastal cities.

We continue to ignore the mounting body of evidence that restrictive zoning is exacerbating our housing affordability crisis at our own peril and — perhaps more importantly — the peril of future generations that will inherit a Santa Monica even more inaccessible than it is today, unless we make substantive changes to our housing policies.

Read the rest at Santa Monica Forward

Project Spotlight – 8820 Sepulveda Eastway

The process for getting new housing approved can be complex, and there are many different types of housing that we can build, from large apartment buildings all the way down to single accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Occasionally, we’ll use this space to spotlight projects that we have supported, look at the process and approvals the project needs, and explain why we think it’s important for people to voice their support.

What is it? A 136-unit, 5-story apartment building. This is on the larger side for a housing development in LA. Outside of Downtown LA, residential construction almost always tops out around 5 or 6 stories. This is due to two factors. First, in most of the city, the zoning doesn’t allow for taller structures. Second, this is the maximum height permitted for wood frame structures by the building code due to concerns about fire safety. Since wood construction is cheaper than concrete and steel, it is often not economical to build taller structures that would require concrete and steel.

8820 Sepulveda Eastway rendering. Source: City of LA Planning case file.

8820 Sepulveda Eastway rendering. Source: City of LA Planning case file.

What discretionary approvals did this project need? A discretionary approval is one where a special permit or a change from zoning regulations is required for the project to be built. In many cases, the current zoning requirements are stricter than the existing buildings surrounding the site.

The only discretionary approval that this project required was a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), a government action that finds the project, as proposed, will not have a significant impact on the environment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). While this is only a single action, CEQA provides an opportunity for opponents of new housing to slow down or stop construction by appealing the city’s decision.

Why should we support this project? Larger buildings add a significant amount of housing capacity with one project. Large buildings sometimes can offer more amenities, because the cost can be spread out over a greater number of units. Promoting a variety of building sizes and types – from ADUs up to large apartment buildings – helps create a diversity of housing types, increasing the diversity of people that can find housing in the area.

While this project only needed to clear CEQA, this can still be an issue if there is opposition to the project. The city’s decision can be appealed on subjective grounds, such as impacts to views. It is important for people who want to help solve the region’s housing crisis to speak up and register their support so that decision makers don’t only hear anti-housing voices.