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Malibu Has Been Trying to Pass Off Guest Houses as Low-Income Housing

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Until last week, the city of Malibu swore up and down that guest houses count as state-mandated low-income housing, but a judge has now put a stop to that nonsense. Under California law, Malibu was required to account for 188 low- and very low-income housing units in its 2008-2014 Housing Element planning document. (Maximum rent for the former is $1,516 per month; for the latter it's $947 per month.) To make the quota, the city adopted a two-part plan in fall 2013: part one designated three parcels where developers could build a total of 158 affordable housing units in addition to whatever else they were building; part two called for "expanded opportunities and incentives for second units." Second units are not just guest houses built adjacent to mansions, but the kind of guest houses built adjacent to mansions that come with their own kitchens and bathrooms.

In the writ of mandate invalidating Malibu's housing plan, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr. writes that "There is no evidence … that second units in Malibu are available to be rented for low and very low income occupancy." The Housing Element that lays out the guest house proposal is pretty strained on the matter—it says that second units "provide an important source of housing for lower-income persons in Malibu." Now "low-income," as Fruin points out, just "lower." Than? Well, lower certainly than the city's median income of $132,926.

The Housing Element also notes that "it is estimated that about three-quarters of second units will be made available with no rent charged, while one-quarter of second units will be rented at market rates." That's based on a survey of homeowners who have applied for permits to build second units since 2000; of the 38 surveys returned, only 11 units were occupied, with eight going rent-free and three going at market rate. Market rate rents in Malibu, according to the same doc, "ranged from $3,200 per month to over $10,000 per month."

As the judge writes:

This staff survey is not helpful to the City, unless the staff writer is suggesting that three-quarters of the second units in Malibu will be made available to low income and very low income households on a rent-free basis. The writer probably means that in Malibu most second units are available only to family members or possibly to domestic employees without rent charge. Housing stock that is made available only to family members or domestic employees does not qualify as low income housing … So the plan itself pretty much acknowledges the whole guest house thing is bullshit.

The lawsuit that led to this decision was not filed by a homeless Malibuite, but by a developer called Trancas PCH, LLC, which was pissed that its parcel was not one of the ones eligible for new low-income housing. Trancas argued that the Housing Element violated the California Environmental Quality Act, but the judge disagreed there. They also, however, complained that Malibu had used "economic necessity" as a criteria for choosing which parcels were eligible for low-income housing. In exchange for building low-income units, developers were to be given density bonuses that would let them build larger than zoning otherwise allows; Malibu only considered projects that absolutely needed those bonuses in order to be "economically viable," which is illegal under state law. On that count, the judge sided with Trancas.

According to the writ, Malibu now has to revise its housing plan to either show that guest houses are totally low-income housing, or find space for 30 more low-income housing units somewhere in the city. As of now, the city has no dedicated low-income housing at all.
· Unaffordable Housing [Curbed LA]