Tiny apartments have been outlawed citywide while local officials analyze how they might fit into Santa Monica’s mix of housing.
Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday to prohibit apartments smaller than 375 square feet, with an exception for affordable projects and supportive housing, after enacting a temporary ban in March. The ordinance is technically permanent, but Council will discuss new housing models, including micro-apartments and co-living, later this year and may change its stance.
When Council discussed single-room occupancy units (SROs) in March, council members said they wanted to prevent an overabundance of studios in the city and ensure new development includes enough larger units for families. Micro-apartments could eventually be permitted after further study and discussion, they said.
“In this day and age, there is a role for SRO units, and we simply have this issue about how do we define things and what role do they have to play,” Mayor Gleam Davis said Tuesday. “I’m not sure we’re at all clear on that.”
The Planning Commission took a different view. While it supports a temporary ban as staff figures out how to make micro-apartments work in Santa Monica, it recommended against a permanent ordinance.
Commissioner Leslie Lambert said she thinks Council is moving too quickly in response to a recent rush to build SRO buildings. Staff originally proposed the ban after WS Communities, an offshoot of controversial developer NMS Properties, filed applications to build six buildings downtown entirely made up of studios ranging from 219 to 373 square feet.
However, none of those buildings in their current designs meet the development standards for SROs that Council adopted last month, Lambert said.
“We’ve essentially banned those projects, so frankly I don’t understand what all the hysteria is about,” she said.
Lambert said she believes much of the local opposition to micro-apartments is misguided. For example, the new development standards address the idea that tenants won’t be connected to their neighbors by requiring developers to include common spaces in SRO buildings. The Planning Commission also recommends that micro-apartments only be rented to individuals for at least one year in response to concerns that the units will become de facto hotels or corporate housing.
“I … appreciate the City’s intent to study new housing options,” Lambert wrote in a letter to Council. “However, I see no legitimate basis whatsoever for banning SROs in the meantime as long as the development standards you adopted remain in place.”
Lambert said she thinks the ban will send a message that younger renters aren’t welcome in Santa Monica.
“Individuals and couples without children can’t afford this city, and SROs meet that need,” she said.