It took two-plus hours, 18 speakers, 11 written comments, and a lengthy question and answer session with City staff, but the Culver City Redevelopment Agency approved an affordable housing project agreement at 4043 Irving Place at its August 9 meeting.
The agreement stipulates that the Redevelopment Agency Board will provide the developers, 4043 Irving Place Investors, LLC, with approximately six million in funding for the creation of a 12-unit project, with nine units at a “moderate” rental rate and three units at a “low-income” rate.
While everyone agrees that there is a need for affordable housing, and while some of the speakers and written comments were in favor of the project as is, opposition was voiced by many members of the Culver City Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA).
The project had been on the City Council/Redevelopment Agency’s agenda on July 26 and had been continued expressly so that council members and community members alike could further examine the funding parameters. DNA members had met with the Redevelopment Agency’s financial consultant Keyser Marston Associates (KMA) to discuss their concerns.
These concerns, as reiterated during the meeting by speakers, included: that the developers bought the land for below market value and have already received a $500,000 plus refund from the City for project changes; that only three of the 12 units will be genuine affordable housing; that 3/4 of the subsidized units will be for people who can already afford to live in Culver City; that the developers and the City consultant have refused to do a market study of comparable rents; that the developers are inexperienced with affordable housing; that other cities such as Santa Monica get better projects for a much smaller subsidy per unit; that the units as planned are not very large and not equipped with amenities comparable to other projects; and that the project is a “hole in the ground” both literally and financially, that gives no protection in case of financial troubles.
Opponents called the project a “bailout” to the developers and some speakers even made comparisons to the scandal-ridden city of Bell.
The representatives for the developer also spoke and gave answers to some of the concerns. Peter Hillakas pointed out, in answer to a charge that there was “no demand” for the low-cost units, that the Culver City Housing Element calls for 150 units of low-to-moderate income housing, a requirement which the project was fulfilling. He also insisted that the units will not be as small as opponents claimed.
Because so many concerns and doubts had been expressed, and the DNA had submitted so many questions, City staff answered questions following the public comment period. One charge responded to was the lack of a market study. Kathy Head of KMA said that a market survey had been done, although due to a lack of new construction, it was necessary to base rent comparisons on existing developments like Playa Vista.
Council members asked additional questions. Jeff Cooper asked if the developers had ever been foreclosed on and received a simple “No” as an answer. Christopher Armenta said he was “struggling” with financial concerns about the developers’ experience in the field of low-cost housing. The representatives had been unable to do a presentation with slides due to City Hall’s malfunctioning equipment but they did describe their experience in managing low-cost buildings (City staff confirmed that they had visited these buildings and found them to be well-managed).
Scott Malsin said he supported the project, especially because the agreement’s covenants grants the Agency the right to property inspection with 72 hour’s notice and other rights to insure property management during the term of affordability, which is 55 years. “This means [affordable apartments] will be available for 55 years,” said Malsin. “We are not funding a ‘hole in the ground.’ ”
Micheal O’Leary also said he felt “comfortable” with the project. Andrew Weissman had recused himself from the item.
The Agency voted 4-0 for approval.
In other actions, the Agency/Council postponed an item on a downtown parking study, while approving joint items on an investment policy for the City, and on block grant recovery funds and the building of a crosswalk at Washington and Boise. The Council approved assessment levies for the Higuera Street Landscape and Lighting Assessment District and for Maintenance District Number 1 Zone 1, and agreed to dissolve Landscaping Maintenance District Number 1 Zone 2 at the August 23 meeting, and extended the moratorium on new oil drilling within Culver City limits to August 23, 2011.