Santa Monica Considers Right-to-Return Ordinance for Communities Displaced by Highway Expansion in 1950s and 1960s

Based on recommendations from Santa Monica’s Right-to-Return working group, the Santa Monica Housing Commission voted 4-3 to give prioritization to “Right-to-Return” applicants for their Below Market Housing Program. This Right-to-Return criteria would prioritize residents with documented proof that they, their parents, legal guardians, or grandparents were displaced from the Belmar or the 10 Freeway-Pico Corridor areas in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Right-to-Return working group—which includes staff from City’s Rent Control Department, City Manager’s Office, and Community and Cultural Services Department—developed this displacement policy as a part of its work with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). The City’s GARE team identified displacement as an equity issue for Santa Monica in early 2018 after considering historical events which had a disproportionate impact on residents of color. GARE established a goal to develop and implement a policy to account for this displacement by 2023.

The Right-to-Return working group also coordinated with the Housing and Economic Development Department. This team conducted research around the historical displacement that occurred in Santa Monica, quantified the impact, and developed an estimate of the pool of individuals who would have a claim to displacement. They also conducted an environmental scan of best practices regarding displacement amelioration in other U.S. cities and outlined the necessary steps for implementation.

Currently, the Below Market Housing program provides apartments in the private sector at a rent that is lower than the normally exorbitant rent rates in Santa Monica. To be eligible, individuals must meet income requirements, as the program is meant to meet the needs of the workforce along with lower-income people. After considering income eligibility, applicants are grouped into three prioritization groups:

  • First priority: Santa Monica households who have been or will be displaced from their homes within 12 months due to a natural disaster, a government ordered eviction, demolition of the building, owner/relative occupancy of your apartment, or eviction due to the Ellis Act or a Mobile Home closure. 
  • Second priority: all other households who either live in Santa Monica or work at least 25 hours per week in Santa Monica, including those participating in job training or those who are retired.
  • Third priority: by date and time that the application is submitted.

The Right-to-Return ordinance would place eligible applicants in the first priority group. The City Council is expected to consider this ordinance at the end of the month.