When I moved to the Shores in 1974, (then the Santa Monica Shores) of the 532 units, there were about 175 vacancies. Actually, years before the two, 17-story high-rises had been purchased in foreclosure. To many, Ocean Park was considered less than a desirable neighborhood. Put it this way, our nickname was “Dog Town” and it wasn‚Äôt because we loved pooches.
Along Neilson Way, in front of the Shores, were a row of signsn that stated: “Rents start at $245 a month.”
Today, those same units cost $3,000 a month. Math was never my strong suit but I believe that‚Äôs more than a 3,000 percent increase. That‚Äôs not just inflation, that‚Äôs more like Germany in the 1920s where it took a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread.
To attract renters at the Shores in the early ‚Äò70s, the building would throw catered pool parties with live music hoping tenants would invite their friends who, in seeing the premises, might want to move here. As I recall, in a luau-themed party we once roasted a pig which, now that I think of it, probably didn‚Äôt attract many Muslim potential renters.
As it happens, the Shores were designed and built by Del Webb. It didn‚Äôt happen but Webb envisioned other high-rise developers would soon follow suit and Santa Monica would become the new Miami Beach. With current skyrocketing rents, one day (if not already) Santa Monica could be like Beverly Hills only with an ocean view.
To see for yourself, just go to the Rent Control website and locate the “MAR Data Base” search box (Maximum Allowable Rent). I recently typed in my building address and up jumped a page with the rent figures which are staggering to say the least.
Upon a quick scan, the highest rent I saw was $6,500 a month, which was obviously a “fair market” renter. The lowest was $902, obviously a tenant of many years paying the rent control figure. As I scrolled down I‚Äôm “guesstimating” the number of tenants going back years and paying the lower figures may now represent as little as 20 percent of the total while the more recent fair market folks may represent the remaining 80 percent.
Recently the Daily Press reported, in addition to record increases in rent, are also increases in tenant harassment cases, which shouldn‚Äôt be surprising. But in all fairness I‚Äôve never seen anything remotely like that at the Shores, nor any difference in treatment of lower rent paying tenants to the higher paying tenants.
In fact, my experience has always been if a repair is needed, i.e. backed up garbage disposal, it‚Äôs almost always fixed the same day, no matter the level of rent being paid. And of course, to attract the higher rents the buildings are maintained beautifully.
But, given the occasional perverse nature of my sense of humor, I admit that when I see an ambulance leaving the building, in addition to the siren, I can almost hear the sound of a cash register. (I have a feeling I‚Äôm going to get a few nasty e-mails for that one.)
Given the vacancy de-control aspect to rent control, all of this is perfectly legal and maybe it‚Äôs just an example of economic Darwinism, or simply supply and demand. And even maybe it‚Äôs the way it should be.
I don‚Äôt resent those who think all these changes are an improvement, even though with how the city, once quiet and quaint, has gone so upscale and congested it‚Äôs almost unrecognizable to me. On the weekends it feels like I‚Äôve moved to a rich man‚Äôs Coney Island.
Personally, I find the transformation sad and hope those that don‚Äôt agree with that observation don‚Äôt resent my point of view. Last time I covered this subject among stinging Letters to the Editor one referred to me as an “ungrateful whiner.” (And that was the nicer one.)
I see the future of Santa Monica similar to America. The 1-percenters are doing better than ever, the ranks of those living in poverty are swelling with income inequality increasing alarmingly, while the middle class, the backbone of any democracy, is rapidly disappearing.
When I grew up in the ‚Äò50s, a father with a union job could comfortably support his family and his kids could go to college. When I think about how it is now (i.e. college tuition alone) that memory sounds more like a “Twilight Zone” episode.
So I won‚Äôt be shocked if Santa Monica is a paradise primarily for the wealthy, and for those lucky enough to receive low-income housing but not much room for the middle class who helped make this city what it was. (Or maybe they could move to Beverly Hills where rents are cheaper.) Or maybe I‚Äôm wrong. This is one time I hope I am.
Keeping in mind that “ungrateful whiner” has already been used, Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.