“Good morning, this is 2015 Properties in Santa Monica. How may I help you?”
“Good morning, sir. My name is Ellie Ramirez and I’m calling about the one bedroom apartment in Sunset Park that’s advertised on Craigslist.”
“You’re in luck, Ellie. It’s still available and I’m the manager, Craig Perry. “The rent is $1,900 a month,” Craig adds. “When we run your credit report, will we see that you can afford that?”
“Oh, yes,” replies Ellie. “I work part-time and just got a Section 8 housing voucher so I can afford up to—”
“Sorry,” Craig interrupts, “but we don’t accept Section 8. Good luck.”
The line goes dead.
Ellie stares at her phone. She is a 37-year-old Santa Monica native who nearly became homeless after a layoff in 2014. She and her eight-year-old daughter have spent the last few months in transitional housing. After two years on the waiting list for the City of Santa Monica’s Housing Voucher Program (also known as “Section 8”), she has finally obtained the voucher that aids low-income families in finding a decent place to live. Once a family is approved, it pays 30 to 40 percent of its annual income toward rent; the voucher covers the rest of the rent.
Ellie has already endured some tough months, but this phone call unnerves her. She expected scrutiny in her apartment search – but not blanket policies against Section 8. She wonders, What if no one accepts my voucher?
The good news for Ellie is that many Santa Monica landlords already accept Section 8. The subsidy program presents a proverbial win-win-win situation: The tenant gets safe, decent housing; the landlord gets steady income and tenant-relations help from the City; and the City makes a dent in its affordable housing crisis while freeing up transitional housing resources for the next homeless person.
By 2015, however, in the midst of a deepening affordable housing crisis, many local landlords had adopted blanket discrimination policies against Section 8, even though their rents were at or below the Section 8 payment standard. The impact on low-income residents like Ellie was severe: they were spending time and money applying for such apartments, only to get turned away because of the voucher.
So in May of 2015, the Santa Monica City Council added “source of income” to the City’s list of tenant characteristics (such as disability and family status) that are protected from discrimination. (Race, religion and other classes are already protected by state and federal fair housing laws.) Adding “source of income” to that list now prevents landlords from refusing to rent to a person based on government-sponsored assistance like Section 8. It does not require landlords to reduce rents. The new law recently survived a court challenge.
Craig Perry’s 2015 Properties needs to step into 2017 and revise its policy. If you have questions about Santa Monica’s anti-discrimination laws, or have information about possible violations, call the City Attorney’s Office at (310) 458-8336.
The names used in this column reflect composite characters used to illustrate the nature of the problem.