The Village at Santa Monica is the type of luxury development where only the well-heeled need apply. A block from the beach on Ocean Avenue, prices start at $850,000 for a one-bedroom unit and rise to $7.1 million for a penthouse.
Immediately next door to the condominium building, the same developer also offers an equal number of rental apartments. But there, rents range from $456 a month for a studio to $1,354 a month for a three bedroom.
This is Santa Monica housing policy at work.
“Santa Monica is a community that, left to market forces, would be completely unaffordable,” says Julie Rusk, who leads the city’s Wellbeing Project.
Maintaining economic diversity has been a longstanding goal of Santa Monica. Of 93,000 residents, 70 percent are renters. In 1979, Santa Monica voters approved some of the most stringent rent control protections in the country, earning the progressive city the moniker “The People’s Republic of Santa Monica.” State lawmakers, however, weakened rent control rules, most recently in 1995, when landlords were allowed to raise rates to market levels when tenants vacated an apartment.
To keep housing affordable, Santa Monica responded with countermeasures. The Condominium Conversion Ordinance makes it illegal to convert existing apartment buildings into condominiums unless the citywide vacancy rate exceeds five percent for three months—a situation that is highly unlikely given the city’s high occupancy rates. The City Council also voted in 2014 to strengthen prohibitions against harassing tenants. Since landlords were allowed to recalibrate rents to market levels when tenants moved out, they had a strong incentive to “encourage” people to leave. The new law clarified what was considered harassment.
Santa Monica also requires developers to set aside a percentage of newly constructed units for affordable housing, using a sliding scale that depends on the overall number of units. The Belmar Apartments at the Village were built on city-owned land by Related California in partnership with the nonprofit Community Corporation of Santa Monica. To qualify for an apartment, prospective renters must earn between 30 percent and 60 percent of the region’s median household income of about $69,000.
The community corporation, which receives city funding, has developed 1,720 units of affordable housing since 1982. The Belmar, says Durinda Abraham, director of property management, “brings a healthy mix of residents to the community. It makes it more vibrant, more inclusive.”
If people have a safe, affordable place to live, their sense of well-being improves. “You will give families the opportunity to thrive who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity,” Abraham says.