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Santa Monica Surveys Rent Control Tenants to Assess Needs
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
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Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 29, 2016 -- A new City survey is trying to determine how many Santa Monica tenants can no longer afford even rent-controlled units and would qualify for a new, but little-known, pilot project that offers subsidies.

The surveys were mailed to tenants in Santa Monica's 27,542 rent-controlled apartments on Friday and posted at, City housing officials said. It can also be found at under the title of 2016 Santa Monica Renter Needs Survey.

Both the survey and the pilot project apply only to tenants in rent-controlled apartments. The surveys must be completed and submitted by Monday, July 18, at 5 p.m.

There is "probably a sizable population" that cannot afford to pay for their rent-controlled units, said Jim Kemper, housing administrator for the City.

“They are severely rent burdened and are at risk of being homeless or displaced from the community they’ve lived in all their lives," he told the Lookout. "We don’t want them to be forced to leave if it’s just a matter of them needing a couple of hundred dollars a month.”

“Severely” rent-burdened tenants are those with low incomes who pay more than half of their total income for rent each month, Kemper said.

The City Council approved $300,000 for the pilot project as part of the $621.8 million citywide budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year that starts July 1. A third of the project’s money will go for administrative costs, Kemper said, and the rest will fund the subsidies themselves.

First, though, the City is trying to gauge the extent of the need, Kemper said. No existing data provides the detail required to determine which specific households need financial help most.

“From what we hear anecdotally, we think there are a lot of renters out there” that would qualify for the program. “They have lived in the same unit a long time and even if the rent is controlled, it starts adding up. If you’re living on $1,200 a month in social security and paying $400 for rent more, that can be a lot.”

A 2015 report issued by the City’s Rent Control Board found that more than two-thirds of tenants had occupied their rent-controlled units since 1999, when a 1994 state law allowed landlords to raise the rent to market rates when a unit was voluntarily vacated.

Moreover, those units were costly given the severely limited incomes of many in rent controlled units, although the rents paled in comparison to market rates, statistics show.

The median monthly cost for a rent controlled, studio apartment occupied “long term” was $576, compared to $1,355 for a market-rate unit, the Rent Control Board found.

Long-term tenants in one bedroom rent controlled-units paid a median in some areas of $845 a month, compared to $1,883 for a market-rate counterpart, the board’s study determined.

Santa Monica is considered a mostly affluent city, but it does have large numbers of moderate to low-income residents who struggle to find housing, officials said.

The City, once known for its 1978 rent control law, has seen the number of such apartments plummet over the decades, accelerated by state laws clearing the way for higher rents and allowing rent-controlled landlords to get out of the rental business ("Santa Monica Rent Board Wants Study on Ellis Act Eviction 'Predictors,'" June 14, 2016).

Less than a third of Santa Monica’s housing was deemed affordable to low and middle-income earners, half the amount available to them in 1998, according to 2012 statistics.

The City lost its major source of funding for affordable housing when the State adopted legislation in 2012 that shut down California’s 400 RDAs as part of Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to solve California’s budget crisis ("Santa Monica City Council Begins Tackling Affordable Housing After Loss of Funding," December 13, 2012).

Santa Monica’s Housing Commission recommends the City require developers to include more affordable housing in their projects. But officials are also looking at a wide range of new revenue, including earmarking more money from the general fund, floating bonds and increasing taxes.

Kemper said once the City determines the financial status of those in rent-controlled units, officials will determine the number and size of subsidies. The Council is watching, he said, to see if the program needs to be lengthened and enlarged.

“Whatever the need is, I don’t think we’ll have enough to help them all,” Kemper said.

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