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Santa Monica's Community Corp Turns 30
By Jason Islas
September 17, 2012 -- Civic leaders gathered Friday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM), the beachside city's biggest developer of affordable housing.
The agency -- which owns and operates more than 1,500 affordable units in 90 buildings throughout Santa Monica - celebrated the non-profit's birthday at the newest CCSM building on Broadway and 26th Street.
“I think the people who founded CCSM had this ideal of preserving the diversity of the city,” said CCSM Executive Director Sarah Letts. “I think it has stayed true to its missions."
CCSM got its start in 1982 when members of the Ocean Park Community Organization identified a need for affordable housing in the Ocean Park Neighborhood.
Former mayor Judy Abdo -- one of the founders of CCSM -- said she and a small group went to then-City Manager John Alschuler with a plan to study establishing a nonprofit that could provide affordable housing for the area.
According to Abdo, Alschuler said, "Don't study it; do it."
Since 1982, CCSM has grown from a small community nonprofit to the City's leading provider of affordable housing. But at no time since its founding has the agency faced a stiffer challenge than it does today.
“The need (for affordable housing) is even greater now” because of Costa-Hawkins, said Letts.
Letts was referring to the 1994 State law, which went into full effect in 1999, that was a blow to Santa Monica's restrictive Rent Control law. It allows the owners of rent-controlled units to raise rents to market rate when a tenant moves out or is evicted for non-payment of rent.
A recent study by the Rent Board showed that nearly two-thirds of Santa Monica's rental units are renting at market rate. The average rent in Santa Monica in 2011, according to the report, was $2,150 a month.
CCSM units go for one-half to one-third of the market rate.
Even though the mood was festive Friday, there was some unease.
CCSM lost a major source of its funding in February after a State law putting an end to the 400 Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) throughout the state was upheld by the courts. Community Corp was receiving 20 percent of all RDA funds, which amounted to more than 10 million a year.
Former State Senator Sheila Kuehl reminded the crowd Friday that this has meant hard times for housing non-profits, pointing out that the highest percentage of non-profits that have gone out of business recently have been housing providers.
Mayor Richard Bloom, who also spoke Friday, said it was time to “get creative” in order to continue to finance affordable housing in Santa Monica.
He pointed to the fact that the City had just sold a $13 million piece of beachfront property, money that will go towards building affordable housing.
“I have a lot of optimism,” said Letts about the funding situation facing CCSM. “It will force people to get together to come up with something new.”
"The corporation is directed by a 21-member board that is socioeconomically and ethnically diverse, comprising of housing and finance experts, tenants and other low-income representatives, and professionals with relevant skills of benefit to CCSM," according to the agency's website..
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