Housing officials are looking to right more than a decade of deficiency in administration of federal housing aid in Santa Monica by recruiting more residents into the regulatory process. 

The Housing Commission held a meeting this month laying out the framework for a new Client Advisory Board that would give individuals receiving federal housing aid a larger voice in housing priorities throughout the city. The establishment of the new group would meet a federal requirement for a citizen input group and advocates said it would begin to address longstanding problems with the local administration of federal housing dollars. 

Individuals who receive federal assistance have a right to organize and two representatives of that organization are designated as part of the Santa Monica Housing Authority Board, the federally mandated organization that oversees disbursement of housing vouchers. 

Voucher holders say they have been denied the right to formally organize in the past with appointed individuals serving as “representatives” in name only. At the Sept. 1 meeting, several individuals said that situation has resulted in discrimination and undue hardship for those trying to get aid via a voucher. 

Michael Louis said past housing authorities were outright hostile to the notion of an advisory body.

“I want to make sure we all truly understand and appreciate how hard it was to get here to this meeting,” he said. “Being mindful and ever aware of past resistance and intransigence to a fully functioning [board] will help us with predicting and resolving the inevitable challenges and roadblocks ahead. It wasn’t easy in the past. It won’t be easy in the future. We must always keep this in mind as we organize, strategize and take action towards our goal.”

He said advocates had spent more than three years working toward the goal. 

“This incarnation of the Housing Commission has courageously stepped up to help empower and give a real voice to a vulnerable population that has been historically mistreated, dismissed and devalued not only by certain Santa Monica city government entities, but also government entities in L.A. County and most jurisdictions in this county.”

Housing Commissioners were unanimous in their support for the board if not for all of the details. Specifically, Commissioners debated how much structure and organization of the new group should be established before potential members were recruited.  

“I’m just not used to having things that are just open ended,” said Commissioner Dominic Gomez. “I think it is a major deterrent in terms of the effective launch of any organization. I’m a strong advocate of organization because organization brings about effectiveness and change. Disorganization does the opposite. Consequently, I do not believe that providing some parameters or suggestions, in any way shape or form, is oversight or stifling in nature. Consequently, I do believe that providing some semblance of structure is far superior … as opposed to something that’s freewheeling.” 

Vice Chair Theresa Marasco said the new group would be capable of deciding how to govern itself if provided a minimum of logistical support. 

“I just want to say that there are many people who are already interested who are perfectly capable of, you know, coming to a meeting and sitting down and figuring out how to form this,” she said. “So I don’t want to make it sound like they’re children and they need somebody to hold their hand. I don’t think that that’s what people are necessarily saying. I just want to make sure that it’s not coming off that way. There are many, many people who are being subsidized by the Federal Government who are very well-educated people who ended up in circumstances where they needed to be get housing assistance and so on. You know, I don’t want to make it seem like, this group is saying that they can’t do things on their own.”

The Commission advanced a proposal to council that recommended seven to 15 members form the group with a designated mission statement. A group of Housing Commissioners will attend the first meeting to help answer questions along with a group of legal experts but the details of the organization will be up to the members. 

Council will hear the recommendation at their Sept. 13 meeting. For more information on the Commission, visit https://www.santamonica.gov/housing-commission.

editor@smdp.com