Map sale

History of the AUD Priority Housing Overlay

It is said that the need for higher density in Santa Barbara was driven by the need to make apartments economically competitive with condos and commercial space. I don’t know where this story came from, but it had nothing to do with the AUD Priority Housing Overlay. [AUD stands for Average Unit-size Density, originally proposed at 37-63 dwelling units per acre.]

The city began work on a General Plan Update (GPU) in 2006. By 2010, the city was at an impasse between those who wanted to increase densities everywhere and those who did not want to increase densities anywhere. Since changes to the general city plan require five affirmative votes, it looked like there might not be a GPU.

In an effort to reach a compromise, I proposed that an experiment be done. The development community said increased density would mean affordable housing for the workforce. In October 2010, to test if this would be the case, I suggested that in a very limited part of the commercial and light industrial areas of the city, densities be increased for rental projects for the life of the building. (The rough map I prepared is above.) The units would probably be cheaper by design. Council member Dale Francisco added the 250 units or the eight-year deadline for when the city would review the results to see if the program provided the kind of housing Santa Barbara needed.

In July 2011, the development community and housing advocates held a two-weekend design charrette to show that with increased densities at market rates, affordable mid-income rental and for-sale housing could be built . The results showed that the units for sale would not be affordable. However, they showed that it was possible to build rental housing that would be affordable. Rents would start at $1,200/month. This is why the AUD Priority Housing Overlay is only for rental housing.

That’s why I was shocked when at The Marc, the first high-density development in AUD to become available, rents started at more than double the expected $1,200. (I recognize that The Marc was completed a few years after 2011 and the $1,200 was for studio apartments, which The Marc doesn’t have, but that doesn’t take into account that the rent was more than double what the cart had planned.)

At a later Coastal Housing Coalition conference, a speaker said there was no such thing as affordable by design. Another speaker said rents will be what the market bears. This is exactly what the city has seen with the priority housing overlay projects. Our big mistake was not linking increased density to increased affordability.

Sheila Lodge served as Santa Barbara’s mayor from 1981 to 1993 and is currently planning commissioner.