“Over the 40 years I’ve lived here, the population of Santa Monica has grown less than one half of one percent per year and that is below the birth rate, so we’re not even housing our own kids,” Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said at last Tuesday’s Council meeting.
He was talking about the need for housing, especially housing affordable to middle- and low-income households, in Santa Monica.
More than any other thing, it is the people who live in a community, our shared ideals, our hopes for the future, and our relationships with one another, that define its character.
Today, we are faced with the reality that the Santa Monica of yesterday will have to change if we hope to preserve our character, unique among California’s coastal cities, as an open and inclusive city.
At last Tuesday’s city council meeting, we heard that, every year, Santa Monica loses between 400 and 550 affordable apartments when these rent-controlled units are vacated for the first time since we adopted rent control in 1979, and are re-rented at market rate, reducing our economic diversity. We have to get even more serious about creating new, and affordable, homes in Santa Monica while preserving the homes we currently have.
Our lack of new housing has created problems, from traffic generated by those who can’t live here commuting in daily to work to skyrocketing rents as the number of homes in our community has failed to keep pace with demand to live here.
The good news is that what makes our community great is our willingness to work together to achieve a positive vision for our future. Santa Monica hasn’t always been the desirable place it is today. The thriving Santa Monica of today is a direct result of the concerted efforts of our community and our leaders, both past and present.
We came together to save the Santa Monica Pier after it had nearly been claimed by the sea. We came together to transform the often-deserted 3rd Street Mall into the thriving Promenade we have today.
Over the years, we have invested our resources, our talents and our time into building a world-class city. Because of our community’s hard work and belief in social justice, we have one of the best public school systems in the state, excellent early childhood education opportunities, a state-of-the-art library system, a committed staff of stellar public servants and public safety personnel, and a robust network of public services that provide support for all in the community, from our neighbors without homes to our youth struggling to find their place in the world.
Through the foresight of our city staff, Santa Monica is a leader in providing municipal high-speed Internet, laying the foundation for the tech boom we are seeing today.
But, as Mayor McKeown said Tuesday, all of this time and investment only means anything if people can live here and have the opportunity to benefit from all the hard work we have put into this community.
The task ahead of us is a big one, but it is necessary if we hope to retain the socio-economic diversity that defines our city’s character. Finding the money to finance 400 to 550 new affordable housing units a year will require that we take no options off the table.
We will need to look to our state elected officials for leadership and work with experienced non-profit affordable housing providers like Community Corporation of Santa Monica. We will also need to work with our partners in the private sector.
A comprehensive and inclusive housing strategy should also take into account the profound need for homes affordable to people who make too much to qualify for housing subsidies but make too little to afford luxury units. That will require some outside-the-box thinking and changes to the built environment, but it is clearly necessary if we are to retain Santa Monica’s character.
It is also clear that socio-economic diversity is something our community values. It was clear in 1990 when the voters passed Proposition R, requiring that 30 percent of all new housing built in Santa Monica be affordable to middle-income and low-income households. It was clear this past election cycle when Measure HH, a ballot measure affirming Santa Monica’s desire for more affordable housing, passed, even if its companion measure, H, which would have provided the funding, didn’t. And this commitment was clear at the Council retreat on Aug. 23.
Our state, and especially our region, is in the throes of a housing crisis of historic proportions that is driving out the poor and middle-class. Santa Monica can provide the leadership necessary to show California how to create a future with “housing for all.”
Let’s work together to preserve our community’s character, but to do so, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the character of the community is, first and foremost, about the people who live here. Let’s work together to make sure the future of Santa Monica has room for all; our long-term residents, the workers who help make our city run and future generations of Santa Monicans, especially our own children, regardless of how much money they make.
Shari Davis, Daniel Shenise, Jeff Kurram, Fred Zimmerman, Dwight Flowers, Judy Abdo, Claire J. Bowin, Jerry Rubin, Elena Christopoulos, Jason Islas, Leslie Lambert, and Cynthia Rose for Santa Monica Forward. Read previous columns at www.santamonicaforward.org/news.