Housing: The family of residents who were displaced when Santa Monica’s historically black neighborhood was destroyed can apply for priority housing. Courtesy photo

In an effort to right historical wrongs, the City has opened applications for households or descendants of households forcibly displaced by the construction of the I-10 freeway and Civic Center to receive priority for affordable housing in Santa Monica.

The “Right to Return” pilot program acknowledges the harm done to primarily households of color in Santa Monica through the use of eminent domain during the 1950s and 1960s. It aims to create a form of reparations by giving these families the opportunity to return to Santa Monica through high priority placements on the City’s Below Market Housing (BMH) list.

The pilot is capped at 100 applications due to the capacity of staff to handle applications and the availability of BMH housing in the City, however staff have said this is just the first step in the City’s efforts to amend injustices of the past.

“I’m excited about people coming forward with their family histories and their stories and for us as a city to be able to recognize that this happened,” said Natasha Guest-Kingscote, who is managing the program through her role as an administrator with the City. “We need to understand these were people that were displaced, families that were displaced that had lives and that had children and grandchildren who continue to have lives.”

It has been difficult for the City to directly contact displaced households and their descendants, due to the lack of official documentation preserved from this time period. However, the City has been working with community partners and longstanding residents of the affected areas of the city to spread news about the application opening.

According to Guest-Kingscote, it is estimated that around 2,000 to 2,500 households were displaced from the Pico neighborhood and the Belmar Triangle due to the construction of the Civic Center and I-10 freeway.

In order to qualify for priority placement on the BMH list, individuals must be a formerly displaced resident or a child or grandchild of someone who was formerly displaced. And, just like any other applicant on the BMH list, they must have a qualifying income level for the affordable housing placement.

In Santa Monica this is no higher than $94,700 for a one person household, $108,100 for a two person household, $121,700 for a three person household, $135,100 for a four person household and $146,000 for a five person household.

Individuals do not need to provide documentation proving their former residence in Santa Monica at the time of application, but will need to provide this at a later date in order to be matched with a housing placement.

Potential forms of documentation include bank documents, court records, a deed to a house, a utility bill, tax records, a marriage license, baptism license, or a voter registration record. Reference librarians will be available to helps applicants use the archives at the Santa Monica Public Library to find possible documents or family information.

“This is so different from anything we’ve done or really a lot of other communities have done and so we really are expecting to sit down and take our time with applicants in terms of supporting them and seeing what they might have that has been passed down from generation to generation that shows that their family lived in these areas during this time,” said Guest-Kingscote.

The application period is open from Jan. 18 to Feb. 22 and if more than 100 applications are submitted the city will use a lottery system to select applicants to receive the historically displaced designation on the BMH list.

The historically displaced priority group will be near the top of the BMH list and ranked above individuals who currently live or work in Santa Monica. This decision was made by City Council when the pilot was approved in July 2021 to ensure that historically displaced households do move off the waitlist and receive placements.

The only group with a higher priority than historically displaced households is households currently facing no-fault evictions in Santa Monica. In a typical year this represents only a handful of households on the waitlist.

Once income qualification and documentation has been verified historically displaced households will be matched with vacancies based on their household size and income as they become available.

More information on the program and application process is available at https://www.santamonica.gov/process-explainers/how-to-apply-for-below-market-housing-for-historically-displaced-households.