Homeless individuals in Santa Monica with access to Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) have been given priority access to the City’s affordable housing system, second only to Santa Monica residents who are facing no fault evictions. 

The addition of voucher-holders reorders the wait list for the City’s limited affordable housing supply to those facing eviction, EHV holders, Right to Return participants and individuals who live or work here.  

The addition of about 80 EHV holders was made during a May 11 study session on the Homeless Count. It goes into effect immediately and will end in September 2023. 

The change is the second of the year following the establishment of the City’s Right to Return Pilot Program. That program seeks to provide affordable housing opportunities to 100 households or descendants of households that were forcibly displaced by the construction of the 1-10 freeway and Civic Center in the 1950s and 1960s. The program is a restorative justice measure that was approved by Council in an effort to make amends with the predominantly black and brown families impacted by the City’s use of eminent domain. Applications are currently being reviewed and added to the list on a rolling basis. 

The City’s first priority, individuals facing no fault evictions, is typically a very small number. For example, between March 2020 and May 2021, a total of 140 placements were made of which only two were households facing eviction.

The temporary prioritization of unhoused individuals for affordable housing in Santa Monica is expected to delay the rate at which live/work applicants and Right to Return applicants receive housing placements. 

The federal government provided Santa Monica with 104 EHVs in September 2021 using funding from the American Rescue Plan. The City seeks to use these vouchers to connect people living in Santa Monica’s homeless shelters to permanent housing, but has struggled to find placements. 

“We intentionally put these vouchers in where the need was in that interim housing to move people out so that we can then move more unsheltered people into the shelter,” said Human Services Administrator Maggie Willis during a May 5 media briefing on the Homeless Count results. “The effectiveness of those vouchers is limited by the limitations of housing availability. So for example, we have 79 active voucher holders out there looking for housing. We’ve had six that have been able to actually find housing in Santa Monica or LA.”

As these unhoused individuals did not qualify under the existing list priority categories (no fault evictions, Right to Return  and live/work,) they were placed at the bottom of the list, which made it very difficult for them to find housing in Santa Monica. 

“There’s a disconnect that exists between people that hold a voucher [as they] are not prioritized for the available affordable housing. So you might have a voucher, but you might be 832 on the housing list, so you can’t use that voucher,” said Willis. “So we’re proposing to move those people to the top so that we can match these very valuable resources together more effectively.”

The City’s list has a portfolio of around 2,600 units, which includes affordable housing developments operated by the Community Corporation of Santa Monica and deed restricted units that the City provides tenant referrals for.

Units have a wide range of qualifying income levels and the overall list is open to households making as little as thirty percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI) or as much as 120 percent AMI. In Santa Monica this means the qualifying household income range could be $24,850 or lower, or as high as $187,300. Rents also range by income level. For example, a one bedroom unit could be as low as $480 a month or as high as $2,364. 

In the case of the EHV recipients, their vouchers will cover the full cost of their potential list placement.