Affordable student apartments? Santa Monica is finally doing something about the sudden spike in market-rate “single room occupancy” (SRO) units.
On Tuesday 3/26, the city passed an emergency ordinance temporarily banning apartments under 375 square feet. This ordinance will last for 45 days until the city can devise a permanent solution to the problem.
The original purpose behind zoning for (and even incentivizing) SROs was to give more opportunities to college students and lower-income individuals to be able to afford housing, and to provide housing closer to public transportation. The city originally expected that 80% of these units would be income-restricted, however, that has not been the result. Since July, developer WS Communities has filed plans to construct 363 SRO units across six buildings – all situated fairly close together – with only 5% of units being set aside as low-income and others listing at nearly $3,000!
Santa Monica City Council became concerned about what these units could mean for the downtown housing balance. Not only are these units less-than-affordable, but SROs typically only cater to the single-person household. The emergency ordinance noted thus: “An over-concentration of market-rate Single-Room Occupancy units could impact the future population of the city.”
This ban will not affect 100% affordable projects or projects that already have building permits, but will apply to the 363 SRO units that WS Communities had planned to build.
“I actually believe that SROs are a valid part of the mix of housing for the city of Santa Monica,” said Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown. “[But] all of the sudden we’ll have all of these SROs, and it will take us forever for us to catch up on [building] two and three bedrooms.”
While not directly stated, the spirit of this law could result in lower prices for student apartments throughout the city in years to come.