I grew up in inner-city Detroit, the city late night talk show hosts use for their stand-up bits. It’s a city that a lot of people have written off, but I can remember when there was a house on every lot. Within walking distance of my childhood home, there was a food market, hair salon, hardware store, candy store and a Sears. There were a number of churches; and an elementary, middle and high school. One of my favorite walking destinations was the Richard Library. Almost all of these places are gone now. They are just a memory.

There are only about six houses left on the street where I grew up in Detroit. Here in Santa Monica, we have the opposite concern. No lot sits vacant for long. Everywhere I look, I see either homes in the midst of remodel or new development.

For a long time, I didn’t really concern myself too much with the Hines development project. I felt like it wasn’t in my neighborhood, so it wasn’t my place to comment on what was happening. Until I read the numerous angry letters to the local newspapers. The ones that got my attention rejected any affordable housing. It was a familiar sentiment that I experienced as a member, and then as the Chair of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Special Education Advisory Committee. I witnessed and experienced the disparity in the delivery of special education services based on ethnicity, geography and socio-economic status. There seems to be no problem accepting the average daily attendance money from disabled, poor and students of color as long as their parents never ask for any services. Based on the numerous civil rights complaints that I have read involving the SMMUSD, it’s just a matter of time before corrective action occurs.

The Director of Special Education Services made a public statement in a newspaper that “if you build it, they will come.” Based on my 12 years of experience with the organization, the “they” are the people who qualify for affordable housing. That was the sentiment of some of the wealthy parents too. It’s what I call the “us for and no more club”. These are people who mistakenly believe that the best things in life are reserved for them, because there’s some magic ingredient in their DNA that makes them better than poor people or people of color. That Republican-style thought process is not indicative of the vision of the city of Santa Monica. It’s not progressive and it is not OK. It demonstrates a lack of humanity and selfishness.

I moved here from Burbank so my oldest daughter could receive the medical treatment she needed, not because of some invisible program at SMMUSD. That was over 12 years ago. Knowing everything that I’ve gone through to provide my children with a loving, stable, affordable home, there is no way that I can say no to affordable housing, even if it means more traffic. I know in my heart that there is a family out there in Los Angeles County somewhere that needs an opportunity for their children. It’s so easy to say “no out-of-towners”, but I am asking our community to open your hearts to what other people need over what you want. One thing that I have learned in the near half-century that I have had the opportunity to walk this earth is that if I want to be blessed, then I have to accept opportunities to be a blessing to others.

The child who receives affordable housing today may be the doctor that saves my life in the future. This is why I am in favor of affordable housing in the city of Santa Monica.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not commend the people who work so hard in the Housing Authority, the city attorney’s office, Legal Aid and the various organizations that support affordable housing and provide a yearly workshop to teach landlords and tenants about their rights. These people truly demonstrate the spirit of Saint Monica, our city’s patron saint.


Debra Shepherd

Santa Monica

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