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Keeping Affordable Housing Affordable

By Denise McGranahan, Senior Attorney, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA)

Over the past year, LAFLA attorney Denise McGranahan, Western Center on Law & Poverty attorney Sue L. Himmelrich, the SMRR Housing Committee, and local advocates worked together and with the City of Santa Monica to redraft its housing rules to better assist low-income residents. The proposed changes were incorporated into the Ordinance revamping Santa Monica’s housing rules, presented to the City Council on June 11, 2013, will better target the housing needs of low, very low, and extremely low income households and help maintain the City’s present diversity.

At the City’s request, LAFLA, working with Western Center, analyzed the existing rules and approached the Housing Department and the City Attorney’s office with concern that rents being charged in the Affordable Housing Production Program (AHPP) were too high for low income families. Families were paying more than 30 percent of their income to rent. The income to rent burden was also identified as an impediment to fair housing choice in the City’s 2012 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice. As the Housing Department had identified in a report to the Council in February 2012, AHPP rent levels for moderate income zero and one bedroom apartments were essentially equivalent to market rate units and only 1 percent of the people on the City’s affordable housing waitlist were seeking moderate income units. The current AHPP rents are also higher than the median rents charged by landlords who have vacancy de-controlled their units in Santa Monica.

One of the reasons for revising the AHPP rent levels is that the rents in the current program are hundreds of dollars higher than the rents charged by most cities with inclusionary housing ordinances. Yet, Santa Monica’s median income is only slightly higher than the median income for Los Angeles County.

On December 11, 2012, the City Council directed staff to “amend the AHPP to include opportunities for extremely low-income households, given that there are approximately 3,000 extremely low-income households who live or work in Santa Monica and whose needs are not addressed by the current AHPP.” LAFLA received a request from Councilmember McKeown on December 12, 2012, asking for recommendations on changing the methodology for calculating rents based on our experience assisting those who need subsidized rents. On February 26, 2013, Council directed staff to consult with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and other advocates who were working on this issue, and “return with a draft ordinance amending the AHPP rent limit standards to achieve greater affordability.” In preparation for Council’s consideration, the Housing Commission held two public meetings to discuss the relevant issues, including a panel discussion of affordable housing experts. LAFLA participated in that panel discussion. Staff and the Housing Commission also worked with LAFLA and Western Center in preparing the proposed rent and income limits set forth in the Ordinance that was proposed to the Council on June 11, 2013.

Ultimately, LAFLA, Western Center and City Staff agreed that the City should revise its AHPP Ordinance to calculate rents based upon the Area Median Income (AMI), and add a category for extremely low income tenants. The Council adopted these recommendations, making the program similar to other cities and consistent with the state’s approach. This change will better target the housing needs of low, very low and extremely low income households and help maintain the City’s present diversity.

LAFLA, Western Center, and the City diverged on one recommendation. The staff recommended setting the moderate income level by using 120% instead of 100%. LAFLA’s concern about using 120% is that those units would not count toward the City’s Proposition R yearly requirement which is at or below 100%. However, there is a need in the City for moderate income housing which will rent for hundreds of dollars less than the City’s current moderate income rents. According to the proposed Bergamot area specific plan, 75% of the workers in the area could only afford rents between $1,000 and $1,500.

SMRR is very pleased that the Ordinance revising the AHPP, which emerged from this collaborative effort, will make the AHPP program truly affordable in the future.

Santa Monica Office:
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
1640 5th St., #124
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Note: At 6:00 PM on Tuesdays & Thursdays the Santa Monica office of the Legal Aid Foundation holds a Night Clinic for low-income renters. An appointment is necessary. Call (323) 801-7964 for an appointment.

Published inAffordable HousingCity Council