Smoke from the Woolsey Fire as seen from Santa Monica.

Santa Monica may be taking in some Woolsey fire evacuees.

About 10 to 15 Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District families who qualify for free or reduced lunch could be moving into vacant affordable housing in Santa Monica after their houses were destroyed in the Woolsey fire. The families are currently couch-surfing, said Tara Barauskas, executive director of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM).

On Nov. 27, CCSM requested City Council consider moving some families displaced by the fire to the top of various waiting lists for affordable housing. The council asked staff to develop a plan to house income-qualified families with children in SMMUSD as quickly as possible.

Councilmember Gleam Davis said providing the displaced families with local housing would help them return to normal life because their children could keep attending local schools.

The council agreed that if the plan moves forward, the families should be able to live in the affordable units indefinitely.

“Once they’re in, it may be pretty hard to ask them to leave,” Barauskas said.

Mayor Ted Winterer said if the City is to grant affordable housing to evacuees, they should be able to prove they do not have the means to rent in Malibu or Santa Monica.

“If you lost your tax returns in the fire, you can at least prove you qualify for free and reduced lunch,” he said.

Councilmembers Sue Himmelrich and Tony Vazquez said they support the plan but want to avoid prioritizing fire evacuees over people who have already been waiting for affordable housing because they were evicted under the Ellis Act or had to move out of uninhabitable units.

“Let’s move forward with exploring this, but make sure we’re not bumping Santa Monica families who are waiting already for these places,” Himmelrich said. “I’m not comfortable with bumping people who’ve been waiting for housing in Santa Monica for a long time and are couch-surfing or staying in garages.”

Barauskas said CCSM receives less than 10 applications for housing from people evicted under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants if they wish to get out of the rental housing business.

The opening of The Arroyo, which will provide 64 affordable apartments downtown, has created some vacancies in CCSM’s inventory, she added.

Mayor Pro Tempore Gleam Davis said she thinks the council would be better equipped to decide whether to prioritize the fire evacuees if it had information how many people waiting for CCSM apartments were evicted under the Ellis Act or left their homes under exigent circumstances.

“I’m a little uncomfortable being so specific about the parameters because we don’t know what effect that’s going to have,” Davis said. “If there are 1,000 people ahead of (the evacuees) given those parameters, then we’re not helping anybody.”


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