Head of Affordable Housing in Santa Monica Leaving with Dire Predictions from Les and Elaine

condosThe head of Santa Monica’s largest affordable-housing organization is leaving after five years for a similar post in Hollywood.

The good news for her is it will lessen the weekday commute from Pasadena for Sarah Letts, executive director of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica.

The bad news is the bleak picture of affordable housing in Santa Monica, and elsewhere locally, that seems almost impossible to solve.

“it is incredibly acute,” she said of the housing crisis in Los Angeles County. And now it is hitting not just low-income people but also, increasingly, the middle class.

“It’s every day working people,” Letts said of those feeling the pain today of the lack of affordable and even modestly priced housing, particularly in popular but extremely expensive Santa Monica. “It’s a state (of crisis) that is staggering.”

Letts is moving on to the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation but will work part-time until June so the nonprofit’s Board of Directors can find a replacement.

She lives in Pasadena, and has said she wants to spend more time with her elderly parents, who also live there. Her career has largely revolved around affordable housing.

Letts has much experience with nonprofits like the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, which restores or newly constructs and oversees affordable housing here, relying heavily on federal, state and local money. It has about 90 projects in Santa Monica.

The nonprofit provides housing for nearly 4,000 people, officials say. But it doesn’t come close to filling the need.

Letts said she hated to exit Santa Monica on a pessimistic note, but the statistics make it hard to do otherwise.

She noted that the cost and availability of housing for low-to-moderate income people tends to be worse in California than most other states. But the picture is even darker in Los Angeles County, where median rents soared more than 20 percent between 2000 and 2012 while median income dropped 8 percent, according a recent study by the California Housing Partnership Corporation.

Santa Monica’s median income is $75,000.

In Santa Monica, only about 17,000 of the city’s approximately 52,000 residential units – most of them rentals – remain affordable to those who earn low to moderate incomes. Major changes at the state level for local rent-control laws are tied to the loss of about 500 such units each year in Santa Monica.

As of 2014, less than a third of Santa Monica’s housing could be afforded by low and middle-income earners, half the amount available to them in 1998, statistics show.

Voters in Santa Monica ushered in rent control in April of 1979, again due mainly to rapidly rising rents. But the City has suffered major blows, including two that date back decades but are still being felt, officials said.

First, the Ellis Act of 1985 gave rent-controlled landlords in California the right to go out of the rental business by converting properties into condominiums. Evictions due to the law soared by 75 percent between 2013 and 2014 alone, according to a recent report by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, based in San Francisco.

More units were lost after 1994, following the passage of the state’s Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act. It allowed landlords to raise rents to market rates when most units were vacated.

And in 2011 and 2012, the state abolished local redevelopment agencies. Santa Monica, like many of California’s local governments used those funds to help provide affordable housing.

The City has been scrambling for replacement funding since loosing that money.

Letts spoke highly of the Santa Monica’s leadership, though, and its goal to address the housing crunch.

“In general, in Santa Monica you have an impressive amount of political will and understanding of the need,” she said. “Somehow, some way, I think the City is pretty sure to find creative ways of developing low income housing.”

She lauded Community Corp’s focus on creating family housing stock with two and three bedroom apartments. She points to the highly praised construction in 2012 of a 33-unit affordable housing apartment building for families at 2602 Broadway as one the agency’s success stories.

It was a tear down, she said. Now the building is noted for its creative architecture, use of green space and environmentally conscious construction.

“We have increasing difficulties,” she said, “but we are all doing what we can.”


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