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Santa Monica City Council Wants More Affordable Housing in Bergamot

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

April 12, 2013 -- The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to explore ways to bring more affordable housing to the former industrial Bergamot Area than the City currently requires.

The item, placed on the agenda by Council members Kevin McKeown, Gleam Davis and Tony Vazquez, directs staff to explore creating higher affordable housing requirements for developers hoping to build in the 140-acre Bergamot Area.

"We are for the first time in memory about to build a whole new neighborhood and doing so with full awareness of the environmental and quality-of-life impacts of too much car traffic,” McKeown said.

The draft Bergamot Area Plan, which was published in February, seeks to completely remake the area around the future Expo Light Rail station at Bergamot Station into a neighborhood of roughly 50 percent housing and 50 percent multi-use creative office space.

The City's charter requires that developers set aside at least 10 percent of their units as deed-restricted to be affordable to “very low income” tenants or 20 percent for “low-income” tenants.

In order for 75 percent of those working in Bergamot to be able to afford to live there, rents would have to be between $1,000 to $1,500 a month for a single or one-bedroom unit, according to an occupational wage analysis conducted by City staff.

But Davis thinks that the solution isn't to require more deed-restricted housing.

“I'd really like staff to take a look at what tools we have in the toolbox to create increased affordability,” Davis said Tuesday.

“How do we create market-based housing that people don't have to get on a list to get that's still affordable?” she asked staff, adding that the Plan should create “housing for people who don't think they need subsidized or deed-restricted” housing.

Davis suggested looking at the possibility of providing incentives to build “micro units” in the neighborhood.

“Although current workforce characteristics suggest the potential market for smaller units, new development should be flexible enough to expand and reconfigure as housing needs change,” the Bergamot Area Plan states.

The Plan highlights “workforce” housing -- housing that people who work in the area can afford to live in -- as a goal for the new neighborhood. Staff argues that workforce housing cuts down on traffic by giving workers an opportunity to live where they work.

Council member Terry O'Day suggested exploring density bonuses as a way to encourage housing.

Such bonuses, which were used to spur housing development Downtown, would allow construction projects with affordable housing to build more units than would otherwise be permitted under City code.

“That's why there's been so much housing built downtown,” said Project Manager Jing Yeo.

Density bonuses were “wildly successful in creating housing downtown,” said Yeo, adding that with the bonuses, developers were able to build bigger projects without going through the Development Agreement process, thereby providing certainty.

Yeo said that the planning staff will consider a number of possible strategies for incentivizing housing that is affordable to the workforce.

“It's not just about deed-restricting the units themselves,” she said.

At the same meeting, the Council approved the first major development in the Bergamot Area: a 377 unit mixed-use development on the site of the Village Trailer Park.

The development agreement (DA) earmarked 35 of the units to be deed-restricted as affordable to “very low-income” households and three units to be deed-restricted as affordable to “extremely low-income” households, surpassing the City's 10 percent requirement.

“Existing standards in the Bergamot area don't go far enough to meet our sustainability goals, as shown by the pitiful 10 percent affordability we realized from the East Village project,” said McKeown “Santa Monica can and must do better."

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