CITY HALL — In light of a challenging economy and rising unemployment rates, leading to tough times for residents, city officials are looking into whether to use temporary funds to help those who are in imminent danger of losing their homes.

The City Council on Tuesday directed its staff to investigate what possibilities are available to provide financial assistance and temporarily cover the anticipated loss from IOUs that the state could issue for tax refunds and local aid.

The request came from Councilmember Kevin McKeown who said the funds many residents are expecting are not arriving.

“Those of us who work on homeless issues have heard over the years again and again that many families are just a paycheck or two away from being homeless,” he said. “If indeed that’s true and I believe it is, we no doubt have families in our town for whom even the temporary cessation of predictable state funding is going to cause a housing crisis.”

The suggestion drew concerns from city staff and councilmembers given City Hall’s current troublesome economic situation.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie pointed out that City Hall can’t just give residents money even if they’re in dire need of it. McKeown said he envisioned the aid to kick in for families whose housing situation is immediately threatened.

“It’s difficult to know what particular thing threatens someone’s housing situation without becoming intimately involved in their familial budget, which is rather difficult for the city to do,” Moutrie said.

City Manager Lamont Ewell cautioned that getting into the business of providing such funding to residents could undermine City Hall’s financial position even more, affecting its current AAA bond rating.

Some councilmembers said they felt it wasn’t their responsibility to cover for the state.

“We all know that the state is hurting but do we all realize they can solve their problem?” Councilmember Bob Holbrook said. “I can just sort of see this thing bouncing off of Sacramento that Santa Monica is going to help bail us out.

“Sounds silly doesn’t it?”

Holbrook added that the pressure needs to stay on the legislature and governor to resolve the fiscal problem and not take any responsibility for it. He said that it would be difficult for him to vote for such an allocation if it came to the council.

Councilmember Pam O’Connor echoed the concerns, adding that she does not want to set up the expectation that providing assistance to residents was something that City Hall could financially take on.

“The state takes away money that’s due to us and we have to be careful that we don’t start taking on their responsibilities as they are taking our money away,” she said. “Getting more information is fine but no expectation should be coming that I am necessarily going to support moving in this manner.”

McKeown said that City Hall has some funds set aside for housing emergencies and people who need to be relocated.

“This is one of those social emergencies where we have power as a local government that we could responsibly execute,” he said.

melodyh@smdp.com