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Santa Monica Set to Ban Market Rate 'Micro Units'
By Jorge Casuso
March 22, 2018 -- The City Council could put an immediate halt next week to a sudden flood of market-rate “micro units” proposed for Downtown Santa Monica under a loophole in the City's zoning laws.
Council on Tuesday will take up a recommendation from planning staff to adopt an urgency interim zoning ordinance that would stop all market rate Single Room Occupancy (SRO) developments citywide..
So far the Planning Department has received applications for six SRO developments totaling 363 units that range from 219 to 373 square feet, staff said.
Only 18 -- or 5 percent -- of those units are deed restricted as affordable.
"While these projects are technically compliant with the current code as drafted, the absence of market demand for classic market-rate single room occupancy dwellings has left what amounts to a loophole for a new kind of housing that might be described as market-rate 'micro units,'" staff said.
Four of the applications were submitted in January, and the other two were filed last July and September.
The proposed ordinance -- which would go into effect citywide -- would exempt SRO uses proposed as 100 percent Affordable Housing Projects across the city.
It also would exempt "certain specialized housing uses such as emergency shelters, transitional housing, and supportive housing," staff said.
"SROs previously served a role in providing relatively affordable housing in urban centers for service workers, low-income singles and the retired," staff wrote.
The proliferation of market rate SROs would undermine the City's vision of a Downtown with "a robust mix of housing types serving a wide range of household sizes and income levels," staff said.
"(A)n over-concentration of market-rate SRO units will not create a neighborhood setting that includes a variety of housing options and promotes social connectedness and community wellbeing."
Under Santa Monica's Zoning Ordinance, SROs can be no more than 375 square feet in size and may, but are not required to, have kitchen or bathroom facilities.
It is unclear how much the market rate "micro units" will fetch, but a recent report by the Rent Control Board found that the median price last year for a studio apartment Downtown was $2,504.
The proposed ordinance will become effective immediately upon its adoption and will expire within 45 days on May 10.
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