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City Creates Task Force for Workforce Housing

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

March 23 -- If nurses, teachers, firefighters, police and other moderately paid workers can afford to live and work in an increasingly ritzy Santa Monica years from now, they might trace it back to a single meeting held this week.

Almost three dozen community members from schools, hospitals, businesses, neighborhood groups and the City met for the first time Monday to hash out the goals and form subcommittees to examine “workforce housing” for local employees.

"The kick-off meeting was a true success," said City Manager Lamont Ewell who has said the issue is a top priority in a community straining under a serious shortage of housing.

"We each understand that the task before us will be difficult, yet important to the City's future, given the great minds that we have working on this challenge,” Ewell said.

Other City officials said the eclectic group of community voices present at the meeting would help steer the broader conversation to specifics.

"We had very enthusiastic participation from the broad spectrum of stakeholders," said Kate Vernez, assistant to the City Manager for community and government relations. "The main purpose was it was the inaugural meeting as well as an organizing meeting"

Iao Katagari, who serves as deputy vice president for the office of external affairs at the RAND Corporation, a well-known Santa Monica-based think tank, was elected to chair the task force.

Three subcommittees were also formed, including one that will examine "assessing essential tools available to the group" and another to look into "land-use, transportation and geography."

A third subcommittee was added later that would define which workforce -- City or private employees or both and the types of occupations -- the process should serve, as well as the consumer choices available.

Through the process, Vernez said, the subcommittees will help decide not only who will be eligible for workforce housing, but how they will be best served.

Whether homeownership will be a goal and if the venture should be public or private or both will be decided in coming months.

"What's significant about this effort is this is community driven," Vernez said. "Major institutions (like hospitals) have land where that can also be part of the solution."

With City officials estimating 80 percent of Santa Monica's workforce lives outside the City, much of the focus Monday was on finding ways to help members of key professions move to the increasingly upscale city.

“The larger themes brought up was for the need to look at options for income groups priced out of the market that form the backbone of the local community," said Vernez.

Teachers, nurses, emergency personnel and others were all mentioned as the types of occupations the community may want retain.

Keeping an economically diverse community in the face of ever increasing market forces, such as astronomical land values, rising rents and escalating mortgages payments was also an issue many wanted to explore, Vernez said.

The task force and its subcommittees will hold alternate bi-monthly meeting and a preliminary report could be presented to the City Council in six to eight months.



"We each understand that the task before us will be difficult, yet important to the City's future." Lamont Ewell



"What's significant about this effort is this is community driven." Kate Vernez


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