CITY HALL — Applicants for subsidized housing programs in Santa Monica need to look alive, or risk losing a spot on a list they’ve been waiting on for half a decade.
The Santa Monica Housing Authority is beginning an update of its waiting list, which contains the names of approximately 3,600 people who are hoping to get housing assistance.
The “purge,” as it’s known in federal terminology, is a precursor to opening the list up to new applicants, something which hasn’t been done since 2006.
When they opened it last time, the authority was inundated with 5,000 requests, said Julie Lansing, housing authority administrator with Santa Monica.
Now, it appears that many of those who signed up for assistance either don’t need it, or can’t be reached.
“For every 100 names we pull, only 25 respond,” Lansing said, referring to the authority’s practice of calling applicants in batches of 100 when an opening becomes available.
That anemic response tells the authority that it’s time to clean out the waitlist and open it up for people who need the assistance.
“Either people have moved and not updated their information, aren’t interested anymore, or have passed away. There are different reasons,” Lansing said. “It’s an indicator to us that we’re not current and timely on our waitlist. We contact everyone on that list, and instruct them to reapply, update their information and preferences, and that gives us a fresh new list.”
The division reaches out to applicants through first-class mail to tell them that they need to reapply. If the person has moved and didn’t update their address, they could miss the notice.
That’s one reason that St. Joseph Center, a nonprofit that works with the homeless and impoverished to get them back on their feet, puts its own address on each application to make sure they get the notices in the mail, said Julie DeRose, director of programs at the center.
Those that get the mailers will know to reapply, a process that must be completed online.
It’s the first year the process has gone paperless, using the perversely-named “Happy Waitlist” software.
If applicants don’t have regular access to the Internet, they can stop by the housing office — at 1901 Main St., Suite C — to use a computer there, or go to the Main Library at 601 Santa Monica Blvd.
The division reserved a room of 14 computers for the purpose, and will post a staff person there from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday to help out, Lansing said.
Shifting the process online has been a real help, DeRose said.
“It’s great that it’s moved on to that system, because I think it’s more accurate and easier for people to be found,” DeRose said.
It also means the center doesn’t have to rely on clients to deliver their information to the housing office directly, and risk lost paperwork or inaccuracies.
Clients have until 11:59 p.m. on July 28 to fill out their applications and get their names on the list before they lose the opportunity and have to get at the back of the line again when applications open to the general public in August.
In fact, the sooner they get it done, the better, Lansing said, because they could end up with a higher position on the waitlist than they had before.
The order of the list is determined first by preference — special factors like being a Santa Monica resident or full-time worker, chronically homeless, or a veteran — and then by the date and time the person reapplied.
Once that list closes out, the division will ready itself to open the list up to the public, which will happen at midnight on Aug. 15 and close at 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 16.
This round of sign-ups has another unique factor.
Last year, the City Council approved a master waitlist, which gives the housing division the ability to combine lists for all kinds of vouchers, including Section 8 housing vouchers — which requires individuals or families to put 30 percent of income toward housing, and covers every dollar of rent after that — and Shelter Plus Care, a program for the chronically homeless that includes case management with housing.
Between all the programs, there are 1,400 vouchers. Of those, four become available each month on average.
Using the master list, the division accepts all applications. If an applicant doesn’t qualify for Section 8 housing, the housing employee can check against the other programs to see if they qualify for those.
That prevents the person from having to get back on a separate list to apply to another program, instead preserving their place in line.
“Before, people applied for a program they weren’t eligible for, and they missed an opportunity for another program,” Lansing said.