This is an article I wrote about Santa Monica’s housing crisis in 1998 — about the time I decided to run for City Council myself.  Much of what I then predicted about the erosion of affordable housing has come true, but I’m also gratified to look back and see my presence on the Council has made a difference in consistently increased affordable housing production, and in the passage of a true “inclusionary housing” law in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica

Councilmember Kevin McKeown


For two decades, Santa Monica has enjoyed uncommon housing diversity and affordability. This has been made possible by two enduring engines: our world-famous 1979 rent control law, and the lesser-known 1990 Proposition R, which required all new housing to include 30% affordable on-site.

Both these safeguards of stability in Santa Monica housing are at immediate risk. The result could be a political transformation into "Beverly Hills-by-the-sea."

Rent control is NOT ending, and don't let anyone tell you so. What will happen on January 1, 1999 is "vacancy decontrol." Should a tenant leave a unit voluntarily, the rent may then be raised to "market rate" -- whatever the traffic will bear. (The new tenant will then again be protected by rent control, but at the new and surely much higher monthly tariff.)

With vacancy decontrol, at best there will be a gradual but irreversible shift of Santa Monica voters to higher income tenants, as people move out and workers, seniors and others on limited incomes cannot afford to move in. At worst, there will be tenant harassment as property management companies try to accelerate the turn-over to get faster rent increases.

Either way, the current diverse blend of economic levels and lifestyles that has made Santa Monica not only fun but politically progressive will be irreparably eroded.

As if that is not enough, a rapidly escalating number of Santa Monica voters who don't move out of their rent-controlled apartments are faced with evictions and demolitions.

Proposition R intended affordable housing side by side with new development, maintaining vibrant neighborhoods of mixed income levels. Changing state law and opportunistic developer lawsuits have forced a rewriting of the city's inclusionary housing ordinance.

The current Santa Monica City Council majority has just handed developers options that will, in effect, license them to tear down existing housing for upscaling, absolving themselves of social responsibility by paying pittance "in-lieu fees," covering only a small part of building affordable housing.

Some of us promoted progressive fees, with incentives to build in currently non-residential neighborhoods, sparing existing homes and the people who live in them. This could have worked, with a reasonable in-lieu base fee -- but the Council passed a fee far too low, and the profit for tear-downs is too high.

Without a campaign to change the Council majority, significant portions of our neighborhoods will be razed and vanishingly little new affordable housing will be built. The inevitable result will be a net loss of affordable housing.

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