By Tara Barauskas
Nearly half-a-year into the most prolific public health crisis of our lifetime, housing insecurity has reached an inflection point.
With millions of businesses closed or operating at reduced capacity, unemployment at a rate unseen since the Depression and eviction protections reaching their sunset, the stage is set for one of the largest waves of evictions in American history.
In Los Angeles County, where homelessness reached a record high in the months before the onset of the pandemic, we must take concrete steps to reverse this trend, support our residents, and protect the future of our communities.
In the long run, though, we must shift our focus to polices that prevent housing insecurity in the first place, rather than those that merely clean up its effects. For our city, the solution is an inclusive housing model that prioritizes permanent, long-term affordable units.
Affordable housing offers working families of modest means unprecedented levels of financial stability. With rents set to work within a household’s income, affordable housing makes it possible for working families to live in high opportunity neighborhoods with strong public schools, quality transit options, and good-paying jobs. They allow individuals to live closer to their schools and workplaces, reducing commutes, easing traffic, and slashing carbon emissions in our community.
In many ways, affordable housing is integral to keeping our community inclusive, diverse, and sustainable. It allows pillars of our local community—the servers in our restaurants, the staff at our children’s schools, the workers in our grocery stores and other essential businesses—to live securely in Santa Monica. Most importantly—particularly at this critical moment—it keeps our neighbors housed and off the streets.
At Community Corporation of Santa Monica, we champion a model of architecturally significant and environmentally sustainable affordable housing that offers families permanent, high-quality rental homes. Since our founding in 1982, we have built or restored more than 90 properties throughout Santa Monica, creating nearly 1,800 affordable homes and improving the lives of more than 4,000 people every year.
But affordable housing, as it currently stands, is far from an on-demand solution to our state’s housing needs. It often takes years, if not decades, to get new affordable properties built. Developments that could house families and children, give them lifechanging opportunities in our dynamic Westside communities, lie unbuilt. The promise they offer — unrealized.
Affordable housing production often requires significant capital investment from public agencies. In this time of economic distress, public agency funding will significantly diminish. Leveraging other sources of funding, therefore, is a key to keeping production moving.
In the fight to expand our affordable housing stock, inclusionary housing models are a significant tool that must be utilized. Inclusionary housing leverages the vast wealth produced by the Westside development market to advance affordable housing solutions. It asks private sector developers to earmark portions of their market-rate properties for affordable units, streamlining construction and reducing development hurdles.
One example, currently proposed by the Miramar Santa Monica, would provide affordable housing for the community under this model. As part of the redevelopment of its Downtown Santa Monica property, the Miramar is partnering with Community Corp. to incorporate an affordable housing component into its project. The historic hotel dedicated a 15,000 square foot parcel on Second Street for affordable living space, paving the way for the construction of 42 new units that, without this market rate development, would not be built. While city regulations require for-profit developers to include low-income units at a number approximately 25 percent of the total amount of market-rate units they construct, the Miramar exceeds this obligation, upping its contribution to 70 percent of the total market-rate units to be constructed.
Located on Second Street north of Wilshire, just blocks from the ocean, this collaborative affordable housing development will allow working families to live and thrive in one of the highest opportunity neighborhoods in the country. It will offer subsidized access to transit, easing traffic in one of the most clogged segments of our city. Even more critically, though, it will represent a forward-thinking solution to a problem felt more acutely than ever.
As we contend with the increasingly uncertain profile of this moment, the for-profit and nonprofit sectors have an opportunity to work together to improve people’s lives for the long term. Inclusionary housing is a vital tool to help get us there. Projects like this align goals, leverages private capital dollars, and gets affordable units built. It places families in quality, affordable homes, insulating our housing institutions from future economic shocks, like this pandemic. At a time when housing insecurity looms large, it offers a glimpse of a more innovative and equitable future.
Tara Barauskas is the Executive Director of Community Corporation of Santa Monica.