Santa Monica’s Housing Element governs the city’s approach to residential development and will be up for discussion this week. Photo courtesy of Century West Partners.

Santa Monica’s sixth Housing Element is set to be discussed in detail by Planning Commissioners this Wednesday and the community is invited to discuss the document that dictates how the region will meet affordable housing needs in the next decade.

The Planning Commission already heard a presentation about the Housing Element back in November but no action was taken at the meeting. The presentation was scheduled only to allow staff a chance to update commissioners on the Housing Element’s progress and schedule and share important notes of public input that resulted from local residents during the various community input meetings.

The Housing Element is basically a housing needs assessment that features updated demographic data, data on housing stock, identifying barriers to the production of housing — both for market-rate and affordable housing, Planning Director Jing Yeo said as she detailed how the document is one of the mandatory elements of Santa Monica’s General Plan. “We are also asked to evaluate the effectiveness and the progress of the housing element both the programs and production from the last eight years and a sort of key piece of all of this is identifying the sites that can accommodate all those housing needs. And all that kind of feeds into listing the goals, policies and actions that would allow the implementation of all of these policies.”

Currently, Santa Monica is mandated by the state of California to build 9,000 new units between 2021 and 2029, almost double what the city would have been required to accommodate prior to last year’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which called on the Southern California region to plan for more than 1.3 million housing units. If it wishes to avoid penalties, the city must adopt the Housing Element Update by Oct. 15, 2021.

Yeo said she recognizes the mandated number of units is high, “and I recognize the frustration we’re hearing from the community.”

“But this is a process that was created and mandated by the State, not the city, “so we’re all trying to muddle through this together,” Yeo added. “But I think the intent here is to proceed in line with Santa Monica values in terms of supporting housing, supporting affordable housing — I think that’s precisely what we’re trying to do.”

Local resident Matt Stevens said in a written statement to the commission that he believes the city has the ability to meet its goals with inclusionary zoning.

“I know the Housing Element seems daunting. But, so many of our issues become so much easier if scrap the mentality of ‘how to build the least amount possible’ and instead work towards building the most amount possible,” Stevens added in his letter. “Please, be bold, and demonstrate that Santa Monica can be a leader on housing once again.”