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Councilmember Reports on Trip to Vienna


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By Jorge Casuso

May 14, 2024 -- Councilmember Gleam Davis on Tuesday lamented that more City officials couldn't join her at an expensive social housing study trip to Vienna, Austria that inspired "tremendous ideas."

Davis was the only official to take what is one of the most expensive taxpayer funded trips in Santa Monica history after Councilmember Caroline Torosis, City Manager David White and Planning Director David Martin canceled their plans to attend.

The registration fee for the week-long conference in what is deemed the "most livable city in the entire world" was $7,800, excluding air fare and hotel accommodations, Davis said ("Council Authorizes Funds for Trip to Vienna," February15, 2024).

"Sadly, if our staff had been able to go, they would have been inspired, as I was, and they would have been able to bring back a lot of tremendous ideas that we could implement in Santa Monica," Davis told the Council Tuesday night.

The study session -- from April 14 to 20 -- included meetings with "private financing officials" and tours of public housing projects, where participants met with residents, Davis said.

"In Vienna, they're not just building housing," she said, "they're building community, and they're doing that through stability of housing."

She said that tenants in the Austrian capital can buy their units, buy into co-ops or pass the units down to family members.

More than 60 percent of Vienna's residents live in city-owned housing or state-subsidized, not-for-profit co-operatives.

"If you rent a unit, you are there until you decide to leave or you don't pay your rent," Davis said. "We met people who were the third generation living in the same apartment."

Davis also reported that 50 percent of a project's land must be dedicated as open space, "and the city doesn't pay for it by having 25-story towers," noting that the average housing project is six to eight stories tall.

In addition, while Santa Monica, which has a population of some 93,000 residents, has about 1,000 homeless people, Vienna with a population of 2 million has only 3,000 homeless people and, of those, half are in temporary housing waiting for a unit.

"Vienna is doing so many exciting things," Davis said. "They believe housing is a civil right."

Last month, City Manager White and Planning Director Martin canceled their trips after opposition mounted to the use of much-needed City funds to study a density-based housing model opposed by many local residents ("Two Top City Officials Cancel Vienna Housing Trip," March 11, 2024).

"I hope in the future, when our staff has the opportunity to go to other places, that people won't get in their way," Davis said.

After Davis' brief presentation, Councilmember Oscar de la Torre reported on his trip in late April to Tempe, Arizona to attend the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.

He said that Arizona faced the same affordable housing crisis as California, with 52 percent of renters "cost burdened."

He also noted that 41 percent of Black residents in Arizona own their homes, as do 56 percent of Native Americans, 49 percent of Latinos and 73 percent of White residents.

He noted that Santa Monica should have a similar data base to help officials develop housing policies.

Before his brief presentation, de la Torre asked Davis how much the trip had cost. Davis said that the $7,800 registration fee was paid with her City Council travel budget, while the air fare she paid herself.

"I'm glad you could afford that," de la Torre said, "because it saves the City money."

De la Torre noted that the cost of his trip was covered by a scholarship he applied for, "so no (taxpayer) money was spent."

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