City Council is considering a ban on tiny studio apartments as a prolific local developer plans to construct six new micro-apartment buildings downtown.
WS Communities, a spinoff of Neil Shekhter’s NMS Properties, has filed applications to build six buildings entirely comprised of studios ranging between 219 and 373 square feet on 5th, 6th and 7th Streets, said Roxanne Tanemori, the City of Santa Monica’s acting planning manager. Four of the applications were filed in January of this year and the other two were filed last July and September.
In response, City staff is asking Council to temporarily ban units less than 375 square feet that are not part of affordable housing developments or housing for the homeless, citing a need for family housing downtown and elsewhere in Santa Monica.
“An over-concentration of market-rate single-room occupancy (SRO) units will not create a neighborhood setting that includes a variety of housing options and promotes social connectedness and wellbeing,” staff wrote in the report on the proposed interim zoning ordinance.
Apartments less than 400 square feet have proliferated in coastal cities across the United States since about 2013 and are often targeted at high-income renters. Common, a company that builds luxe apartments with shared kitchens and bathrooms, is rapidly expanding across Los Angeles.
The WS apartments included bathrooms and cooking facilities, according to the report.
However, the developer’s past attempts at micro-apartments subdivided units in two rent-controlled buildings into suites with shared kitchens and bathrooms, which it operated as corporate housing.
Council moved last December to tighten restrictions on medium-term rentals, saying that converting rent-controlled housing to furnished micro-units that function as de facto hotels deepens Santa Monica’s affordable housing crisis.
NMS Properties has stated in a blog post that Shekhter believes micro-units are a solution to the region’s housing shortage.
“While micro-units are not for everyone, they are the perfect solution for demanding jobs where the tenant simply needs a place to sleep, shower and store their belongings,” the blog post said.
Staff said WS’s projects are code-compliant but do not align with the City’s strategy to address the housing shortage.
“Addressing the regional housing crisis with a proliferation and concentration of these new SRO projects (downtown) would not provide the necessary variety of housing types,” staff wrote.
The six planned developments would add 362 micro-units downtown. WS filed applications to construct buildings up to eight stories tall at 1323, 1338, 1415 and 1437 5th St., 1437 6th St. and 1557 7th St. (also known as 701 Colorado Ave.).
The four 5th Street sites are on sites spread across two blocks between Arizona Avenue and Broadway, near several other existing WS buildings. Three of the sites are parking lots and one is an older low-rise building housing a nail salon and a tailor. 1437 6th Street, two blocks east, is also a parking lot.
1557 7th Street is a small brick office building. Several other WS developments are planned in the immediate area, including 1550 Lincoln Blvd., a 100-unit, mixed-use building currently under construction.
If Council approves the temporary ban on SROs, staff will revise development standards, land use regulations and residential use classifications around units less than 375 square feet. Council would vote on permanent zoning changes before the interim zoning ordinance expires on May 10.