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The Rent Control Board will consider asking City Council to expand rent subsidies for senior citizens following a request from Chairperson Anastasia Foster at their last meeting.

City Hall approved a pilot program, Preserving Our Diversity (POD), in 2017 to set aside about $200,000 to subsidize rent for low-income, long-term residents, aged 62 and older, who live in rent-controlled apartments. A report on the program is due to City Council in the coming months and Foster said she’d been personally tracking the program. She said it was important to pursue varied approaches to affordable housing that didn’t always focus on new construction.

“I think it’s worth reinforcing the notion that right in front of us is an enormous population that are already living in reasonably affordable units and these are our long-term, mostly seniors in this community,” she said.

Foster said the Board had a responsibility to weigh-in on the program even though City Council and the Housing Commission have primary responsibility over the program due to the RCB’s first-person experience with rent burdened residents.

She said new construction has become difficult due to a loss in state funding and working to keep people in their homes could be more cost efficient.

“While we are raising the money and we do need to build the units it’s going to be a slow and arduous process,” she said. “Even if we start accumulating housing funds and a housing trust, which we will and we are to do that goal, we have right in front of us the opportunity at a much lower cost and a much quicker outcome to preserve existing affordable units right now.”

According to Community Corporation of Santa Monica, the city’s largest provider of affordable housing, more than 6,000 people are on their waiting list for housing. They currently manage 1,700 units with about 4,000 residents. CCSM has said new units can cost between $450,000 – $650,000.

Under those conditions, Foster said an expansion of the POD budget to $2,000,000 could serve 500 at-risk seniors while that money would only pay for four new units.

She said the need for assistance grows each year and said even rent control doesn’t necessarily protect at-risk tenants from eviction as the Board’s annual adjustment can far outpace the cost of living increase provided to social security recipients.

“The last thing we want to see is our seniors who have given communities and our families decades of efforts fall out onto the street,” she said.

Commissioner Todd Flora agreed.

“Our general adjustment alone is outpacing (Cost of Living Adjustments) for social security,” he said. “Our formula has produced a general adjustment that is putting at risk seniors who we want very much to age in place and that’s very much, I think, one of the goals of many communities to make sure seniors can age in place.”

Commissioner Caroline Torosis said she fully supports the POD program and asked staff to provide more details on the possible uses of money earmarked for affordable housing when they brought back a final resolution.

“There’s a limited pool of money and I do think it’s a multi-pronged solution but at a certain point you’re giving money to a tenant in a unit that already exists and potentially taking that from constructing additional units.”

Staff said they will return with a resolution asking Council to expand the program at a future meeting.