CITYWIDE — Roughly 1,100 households in Santa Monica that rely on federal funding to help pay the rent may be in jeopardy of losing their homes if members of Congress can’t come to a solution within the next 30 days to end the ongoing government shutdown.
While pundits do not predict the shutdown to last a month, nothing is certain, especially given the reluctance of some Republicans and Democrats to budge when it comes to extending America’s line of credit and funding the Affordable Healthcare Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.
Thursday marked the third day of the shutdown.
City Hall has roughly $1 million in reserve, less than what is needed to cover rent for Section 8 tenants for the month of November, said Jim Kemper with the Santa Monica Housing Authority. Under the Section 8 program, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the federal government gives money to local agencies, which in turn pay landlords directly to cover 70 percent of a tenant’s rent.
“We are basically covered for the month of October,” Kemper said. “If they resolve this soon, like what happened the last time in 1995, the money will start flowing again. If not, it’s a concern. The issue becomes a problem the longer the shutdown goes on.”
The Los Angeles County Housing Authority issued a press release earlier this week sounding the alarm. Section 8 provides assistance to over 23,000 households that include seniors, the disabled, homeless, mentally ill and the working poor. Because the sequester at the federal level required public housing authorities, including Santa Monica’s, to draw down reserves from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earlier this year, the county’s funds are nearly exhausted. If the federal government remains closed through the end of the month, the county will not be able to make its payments to over 13,000 landlords in November.
By HUD’s own definition, a public housing authority that has fewer than four months of funding reserves is considered an “at-risk” agency.
“This shutdown and continued uncertainty will result in households losing their vouchers and puts our most vulnerable populations at further risk,” said Sean Rogan, executive director of the county’s housing authority. “I call on Congress to take action to pass a continuing resolution and stop the shutdown before thousands of families in Los Angeles County face homelessness.”
Rogan urged the public to call their representatives in Congress to encourage the passage of a resolution to end the shutdown.
When the Daily Press called HUD for comment for this story, we were immediately directed to a voicemail, which stated that no officials were able to come to the phone because they were furloughed due to the shutdown.
“The county is trying to put a face on this,” Kemper said of the press release. “This is not just a policy thing. Landlords are not going to get checks and they themselves are individual owners, mom and pops. It’s implying that they will have no choice but to start eviction.”
Kemper said he doesn’t think landlords will go that far if the shutdown persists because eviction is a long process.
Carl Lambert with the Action Apartment Association, which represents roughly 1,000 property owners in Santa Monica, said even if the shutdown is resolved, the damage is done. Landlords already are leery of accepting Section 8 tenants because of the extra paperwork and inspections they must endure.
“This will further discourage owners from participating,” he said. “It will definitely raise more eyebrows if the checks stop coming.”
He said landlords participate in the program because of deed restrictions, which limit the amount of money they can charge in rent. If they accept Section 8 tenants, however, they typically get more each month thanks to the federal funding formula.
Kemper hopes that a resolution can be reached sooner rather than later. If not, the City Council could consider dipping into the General Fund to cover the rents and then get reimbursed later.
“Prolonging this is not good for anybody. … Maybe from a political standpoint, for folks with political goals to achieve, but down on the ground level, no good comes from turning programs on and off on that kind of a whim.”