A proposed ban on tiny apartments in Santa Monica is dividing opinion within City Hall.
City Council voted in March to temporarily prohibit apartments smaller than 375 square feet, with exemptions for affordable or supportive housing projects, after a developer filed applications to build six buildings entirely composed of micro-apartments. A proliferation of tiny apartments would shift the city’s limited housing stock away from family housing, councilmembers said.
After Council voted, City of Santa Monica staff drafted an ordinance to permanently ban apartments between 220 and 373 square feet, or single-room occupancy units (SROs) for the Planning Commission to review.
The commission dissented from their consensus last Wednesday, however, saying that a moratorium on small apartments would remove a relatively affordable housing option for renters – an unwise policy move in the midst of a regional and local housing crisis.
“The downtown plan calls for a diversity of households. That doesn’t mean all families with two kids,” said Commissioner Leslie Lambert. “That means millennials, whether they be single or couples, have an opportunity to live downtown. They most likely cannot afford apartments in the new projects. This offers an option for them.”
The commission did not vote on the permanent ordinance staff proposed, instead voting to recommend that Council extend the temporary ordinance it enacted in March for one year and alter it to require the apartments be rented for at least one year to individuals, not corporations. Last month, the commission also recommended that micro-apartment buildings should include more common space to foster a sense of community between tenants.
The conditions were added to address concerns that micro-apartments would isolate residents or be used as corporate housing, which Council has moved to curtail in recent months after several rent-controlled apartments were subdivided and converted to medium-term rentals.
Commissioner Shawn Landres said he favors restricting micro-apartments to permanent residents but feels that banning them entirely would not help alleviate the housing crisis. Tiny apartments might be the only market-rate housing in Santa Monica affordable to many people, he said.
“I’m not interested in taking options off the table for people,” he said. “I want them to have choices.”
Every other commissioner present shared his view. While Commissioner Jason Parry voted against the recommendation, it was because he felt that micro-apartments could be used as medium-term housing.
Earlier in the meeting, however, the commission denied the six projects from developer WS Communities, an offshoot of controversial developer NMS Communities, that originally prompted City staff to propose a micro-apartment ban. The projects did not comply with the new requirement that SROs have common spaces, but WS can alter their design and resubmit them for approval.
Acting planning manager Roxanne Tanemori said staff will still present the prohibition on micro-apartments to Council on May 14, with a summary of the commission’s recommendation against it. Commission Chair Mario-Fonda Bernardi will urge Council not to pass the ban.
“There was a consistency among everyone there that this was a housing type we wanted to update to our development standards but not remove,” Landres said.