It is often argued that like access to food and clean drinking water, shelter is a basic human right. The Daily Press agrees and has continuously supported efforts to aid the homeless who call Santa Monica’s streets home. We have been media sponsors for the SuperBowl-a-thon, which raises money for the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition, as well as the Red Cross Red Tie Event, and have backed City Hall’s efforts to create a homeless community court and pressure other cities to get involved and do their fair share.
But there comes a time when enough is enough, and that time is now. The Daily Press cannot support City Hall’s decision to essentially hand over a prime piece of real estate, plus an apartment complex, to homeless services provider OPCC and affordable-housing provider Community Corp. of Santa Monica to create supportive housing for the chronically homeless.
The plan, which is admirable but not fiscally prudent, is to negotiate a very generous lease agreement with OPCC and Community Corp. and give them $100,000 for architectural, legal and consulting services, as well as a significant loan to rehabilitate the apartments, a loan which doesn’t have to be repaid if OPCC provides housing for more than five decades. The complex, which has been owned by the city since 1973 and is located a short distance from the boardwalk, currently houses OPCC’s Daybreak Day Center, a social services program for mentally ill homeless women. Seven units are occupied by residents and seven others are vacant.
With the economy struggling and city coffers dwindling, City Hall should look to sell the property when the real estate market rebounds, allowing time for residents there and OPCC to make other arrangements.
With the money earned through the sale, City Hall could then partner with Los Angeles County and another neighboring city, such as is the case with the Upward Bound House project in Culver City (City Hall contributed $400,000), and buy a larger, less expensive plot and create a bigger facility with more beds for the needy.
This would truly be a regional approach, although more difficult to create given neighborhood opposition to such projects.
In addition to the financial aspect, the Ocean Avenue deal also sets a bad example. Why would anyone want to get their life back on track by finding a job and paying their own bills when they can get a nice apartment for free or at a significantly-reduced rate? If you want to live by the ocean, you have to work for it.
That’s not saying the homeless have to live in a ghetto. They deserve to live in a safe neighborhood with access to services just like the rest of us. But Ocean Avenue? There are Santa Monica families who are struggling to pay their mortgages or rent. Shouldn’t we help them before they too become homeless?
In the end, City Hall is giving away a big gift while many of us can’t save enough each month for a down payment on a condo or house, let alone health insurance or college tuition. This move, if approved by the City Manager’s Office, further strengthens the perception that Santa Monica is a home for the homeless. Outsiders will see this and laugh. Cities will continue to sit by and shirk their responsibilities because they know Santa Monica will go above and beyond.
The council needs to stop this deal in its tracks and think more clearly about this asset and use it to its fullest potential. This is not about hating the homeless. This is about being fiscally responsible during troubling times.