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New housing policy for Marina del Rey assailed, but wins county OK

Supervisors give preliminary approval to a plan that would set aside low-income apartments. Critics say it favors developers.

June 20, 2007|Jack Leonard | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors backed a new housing policy for Marina del Rey on Tuesday that would expand the number of low-income apartments but failed to satisfy affordable-housing advocates.

The guidelines -- if given final approval by the board -- go beyond a county task force recommendation by no longer allowing developers to pay a fee in lieu of building affordable apartments.

But critics noted that the policy otherwise would require less affordable housing than the county's current guidelines. They said supervisors could do far more to remedy one of the region's most pressing problems and accused the board of bowing to developers, who have generously donated to supervisors' campaign funds and have a financial interest in renting apartments at market rates.

"They have pandered to a special interest group over the needs of the county and over the needs of the largest number of people who need affordable housing," said Helen Garrett, an activist who rents one of a few dozen marina apartments designated as low-income.

Unlike most coastal areas, the marina is owned by the county, which leases it to developers. The county can use the income it generates to supplement law enforcement, healthcare and other services for residents throughout the county.

The marina provides the county with about $35 million a year from rents, a figure expected to double once redevelopment is complete.

The new guidelines would add at least 136 affordable apartments over the next few years as the county negotiates the terms of three new developments planned for the marina. The loss of rent from those subsidized units would amount to $51 million over 60 years, according to county calculations.

A proposal by Supervisor Gloria Molina would have required 166 affordable housing units, but supervisors unanimously agreed on a compromise amid concerns about its costs.

"This is a good deal," said David Sommers, a spokesman for Supervisor Don Knabe. "Today's compromise will allow us to have affordable housing in the marina but also use the money coming out of the marina to benefit residents across the county."

Under the policy, developers would be required to replace existing apartments rented by low-income residents with new units designated as affordable.

If they increase the number of apartments on a lot, they also would have to set aside 5% of the extra apartments for "low income" tenants and another 5% for "moderate income" tenants.

The current policy requires developers to set aside 10% of those apartments for low income residents, a county attorney said.

Affordable-housing advocates had urged the county to require 10% of all units to be designated for "very low-income" residents.

Rents for apartments considered affordable are capped at a rate that takes into account the size of the unit and the household income of the tenant.

A household of four earning less than $59,200 qualifies as "low income."

The county caps the rent on a three-bedroom apartment for such a family at $848 a month. The same family earning less than $37,000 can qualify as "very low-income" or as "moderate income" if members earn up to $67,800.

Affordable-housing advocates faulted the county for giving developers millions of dollars in subsidies to protect their profits, saying that developers still could turn healthy profits while providing housing for poorer tenants.

"The county can get more bang for its buck," said Jun Yang, an organizer with the community group, People Organized for Westside Renewal. "The people who will lose the most are the very low income."

But David O. Levine, president of the Marina del Rey Lessees Assn., described such criticism as "flawed and unrealistic." He said developers will lose millions of dollars in lost rent to provide affordable housing.

A final vote on the policy is expected in about three months after an environmental analysis is completed.

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