City Hall has approved a new program to help some of the city’s most at need renters stay in their homes.
The Preserving Our Diversity program will provide financial aid to low-income, long-term residents, aged 62 and older, who live in rent controlled apartments said the staff report.
The POD program would set aside $200,000 to help seniors pay rent and another $100,000 to pay for administrative costs. To identify the eventual recipients, City Hall sent a survey to about 27,500 rent controlled households. Officials received 814 responses and of those, 433 did not already receive a government benefit (a prerequisite for the Santa Monica program).
After applying additional criteria, the program identified 26 individuals for the program. The proposal calls for providing 12 months of rental assistance while the study is conducted with funding for an additional two months to conclude or transition the program. While it’s being called a “pilot” program, staff said they have an expectation the 26 individuals chosen for the first year will continue to receive city aid beyond the conclusion of the 12-14 month study.
According to staff, the amount of the subsidy will vary per household and is based on providing tenants with a minimum quality of life after paying for housing costs. Staff said in order to meet basic needs, a one-person household needs to have $740 available after rent while a two-person household needs $1,293. Staff said the average subsidy for the first 26 applicants will be $460 for one person and $720 for two.
“Of the 26 potential ‘pilot cohort’ households, there are 22 one-person households and 4 two-person households,” said the staff report. “The average head of household age is 72 years. Average annual income is $13,763 for a one-person household and $19,281 for a twoperson household. All 26 households experience ‘rent burden’ at more than 30 percent of income paid toward rent, with 22 households ‘severely rent burdened’ at more than 50 percent of income paid toward rent.”
The proposal passed with a unanimous vote of the council but wasn’t without debate.
Councilmembers questioned staff’s decision to call it a “pilot” program while also recommending ongoing subsidies for the 26 applicants and some questioned the mechanics of paying the subsidies directly to landlords or directly to tenants depending on the specific situation.
Director of Housing and Economic Development, Andy Agle said his office is confident the individuals in the program will know how to make best use of the money.
“All 26 of these people have lived here for a long time and while they might only be eating every other day, they’ve figured out how to survive here,” he said.
Councilwoman Davis asked how staff will track the money without stigmatizing residents of creating new problems for them with potentially unfriendly landlords.
“We want to keep people in housing and still allow them to maintain their dignity,” she said.
Housing Commission Chair Michael Soloff said the Commission had spent significant time debating the same issues. He said the city money is the subsidizer of last resort and part of the requirement for the pilot program was that tenants were able to receive other kinds of aid.
Soloff said the purpose of the 12-month study will be to evaluate how the program works and refine the criteria if it is continued but said it will never cover everyone who could need it.
“Any reasonable expectation of what we could scale this program up to is not going to over the entire need,” he said.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown said the dire need of some residents required immediate action, even if the program were not perfect.
“We’re in a situation now where many of our neighbors, if they’re not living on cat food, they’re pretty close and I don’t’ feel we can responsibly ignore that, can we help everybody? No, but we can help some and I think we should,“ he said.
City Manager Rick Cole said he has previously cautioned the council against establishing new entitlement programs but in this case, it is impossible to know how the program will shape up in the future until staff have had a chance to study it in action.
“If we do this and half the people are evicted then clearly, it’s not a good way to use our money,” he said. “If we are successful and compare it to a diff group of 26 people in a similar situation and half of that group are evicted and none of these are evicted then you have to make some hard choices. “
The program will be funded with money from the voter approved GSH sales tax and it comes as the County is also preparing to rollout new services following the voter approved Measure H. Mayor Ted Winterer said City Hall will have to wait and see if the local program works in concert with or opposition to new County efforts but the end goal is the same.
“Let’s see if we can’t, with city money or other money, make their lives better and more dignified,” he said.