Preventing renters in Santa Monica’s most diverse neighborhood from being displaced will require stronger eviction protections and more affordable housing, according to a recent report.

A report the city of Santa Monica released last week on preventing gentrification in the Pico neighborhood recommends enhancing tenant protections and building more affordable housing rather than downzoning the neighborhood, as the Pico Neighborhood Association has called for. Pico, a historically Latino and working-class neighborhood, has gentrified in recent years and struggled to retain long-term residents as rents rise.

In the report, Peter James and Jing Yeo, two of the city’s top planners, said Pico’s current zoning disincentivizes redevelopment because most existing buildings are denser than what developers are allowed to build today.

With the exception of 2014, which saw the completion of the 100% affordable housing developments of High Place East and West, there have been 12 or fewer units produced annually in Pico in recent years, according to the report. No units were constructed in 2016 and just one was built in 2017.

But rising housing prices and low-density redevelopment still put residents at risk of displacement, they said.

“Although the potential of increased density is not an incentive to redevelop, the potential windfall from the sale of redeveloped condominiums or exorbitant home values and market-rate rental costs are,” the report said. “Therefore, maintaining, communicating and increasing tenant protections available to vulnerable renters is key to preserving the existing Pico community representing a diversity of incomes, ethnicities and cultures.”

The report proposes providing legal assistance and outreach to tenants at risk of eviction in addition to the tenant protection measures the city already provides.

James and Yeo pointed to Los Angeles’ Right to Counsel ordinance, which provides legal assistance to tenants, as a possible model. The Santa Monica City Council has not yet discussed such an ordinance, according to the report.

They also suggested creating a tracking system to identify indicators of potential displacement and outreach to potentially impacted tenants.

The report was released as an update on potential changes to Pico’s zoning as part of the Pico Wellbeing Project, which the city launched in 2018.

The Pico Neighborhood Association made seven zoning requests to preserve the scale, character and diversity of the area. Six of the proposed changes were already in place, according to the report.

The seventh — a request to downzone Pico Boulevard — would conflict with the association’s and the community’s stated desire for more affordable housing. James and Yeo said downzoning could potentially cost the neighborhood 1,000 new units.

“The idea of producing more affordable, senior, workforce and/or middle-income housing was one of the most common recommendations from the community that came out of the public outreach for the Pico Wellbeing Project,” the report said. “Reducing density is in direct conflict with the Pico goal to support more affordable housing.”

Public outreach also revealed that many Pico residents are concerned about gentrification and the loss of longtime community members, not development, according to the report.

“Very few concerns were expressed about over-development, compared to many more comments on the inadequacy of the housing stock and the wish to build more housing for all income levels, especially for low-income,” the report said. “In particular, Pico teenagers who attended the two youth workshops expressed worry that they would not be able to stay in the neighborhood in the years to come.”

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