• What We Are Learning About the Demand for ‘Low Income’ Housing

    by Mitch Lehman

    Every ten years or so, San Marino must deal with regulations and statutes that promote so-called “low income housing.” Previous city councils have dealt with the issue effectively while preserving San Marino’s unique character. 2013 may be different.

    The state demands that San Marino provide 17 units of “low income housing.”

    How low? Unclear. What kind of housing? Unclear. What happens if the City does not provide that?  Unclear.

    Solutions have ranged from allowing so-called “granny units” (second units built on larger properties) to City funding of actual low-income housing projects in other locations, such as South Central Los Angeles.  Other options can include subsidies for mortgage payments or down payments for people meeting the “low income” definition.

    San Marino’s dilemma has never changed – the City is fully built out, lots are tremendously expensive, and San Marino is just not designed or built for “low income.”  It was not always so. Many homes in San Marino are not estate properties. Many are the traditional California 3 bedroom/2 bath homes of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Some are (or were) even the post-World War II cottages with 2 bedrooms and 1-1/2 or 1 bath.

    Then along came San Marino’s excellent schools, demographic shift and the prized nature of “single family homes only” as Los Angeles County grew ever more dense.

    Another question always raised about “low income housing” is, “What happens when the ‘low income’ first owner wants to sell?”  Will they sell at market and reap a huge windfall or will the property be restricted to a second “low income” buyer? The answers to that across the state are across the board.

    The Tribune first discovered the newest version of this controversy a few weeks ago. The city council hired a consultant to prepare this year’s report. That report, posted at www.sanmarinotribune.com, inventories every possible site of  “low income” construction. It recites the fact that San Marino is fully built-out and that land costs for the few vacant lots are prohibitive. What appears to be new, however, is the proposal – or at least suggestion – that “habitually vacant” commercial properties can be turned into “mixed use.”

    That means some sort of commercial business on the ground floor with apartments and/or condominiums above. Those units would be partially or completely “low income.”

    The Tribune discussed directly the matter briefly with Assemblyman Ed Chau and State Sen. Ted Lieu. Each had read The Tribune’s articles and each was familiar with the issue.  Neither would comment one way or another.

    At least one San Marino resident has tied certain architects and engineers to developers who live in San Marino including at least one who successfully completed major mixed use projects in Alhambra. The Tribune is now conducting an examination of campaign contribution reports to see whether these are contributors to either of our California representatives.

    One current city councilman told The Tribune regarding home buying in San Marino, “If people pay so much money for a property, shouldn’t they be allowed to build as much as they want? They can in China.”

    In adjacent Alhambra and Arcadia, “mansionization” and increased housing density are rampant. San Marino’s codes so far prevent that kind of development, but each week The Tribune carries city notices about requests for variances and conditional use permits – all to approve greater density. The Tribune will be examining those files to learn the owners, the proposed plans, and the effect on density.

    Next week: The Tribune will publish more information as it tries to “connect the dots” to try to learn if there is more evidence of a plan to remove San Marino’s “single family home only” restriction.

    The Tribune has placed the entire Draft Housing Report for the San Marino City Council on-line at www.sanmarinotribune.com.

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