I am a Housing Choice Voucher holder in Santa Monica. This program is also known as Section 8. There is a lot of shame and stigma attached to this program, because we live in a society that does not value people with lower incomes. My income is attached to my disability. The only thing that is harder for me than being disabled is the way that I am treated, because of it.

I have experienced disability and racial discrimination in my housing here in Santa Monica. One of the property owners where I live stated that they do not have to “respect tenants.” This person also said that I am always talking about my right (sic) and they “don’t give a **** about my right.” (Sic) This is the kind of foolishness that many of us with vouchers have had to endure. The Housing Authority does not require property owners to go through any kind of training to receive payments on behalf of a voucher holder. There is no requirement for the property owner to learn fair housing law or about habitability standards. It’s assumed that the property owner will engage in due diligence, but it’s not required.

Conversely, tenants are required to document all sources of income, including any income that children in the home hold, such as money in a savings account. The tenant also has to provide their car registration, and if they are allowed to drive a car owned by someone else. If you think that’s a lot, wait, there’s more. If a tenant has life insurance, the cash value of the life insurance has to be disclosed. This is why some voucher holders have no life insurance.

A lot of the rules of the program come from HUD. The City of Santa Monica cannot change those rules, but they can work to eliminate the stigma of the program. That has not happened. The other thing that the City can do is put a functional Resident Advisory Board in place. Currently, all voucher holders have been appointed by the City to sit on the Resident Advisory Board, but we have no officers, agenda, or meeting dates. It basically exists in theory. That basically leaves those of us with vouchers with no agency. That’s mot very progressive for a city like the city of Santa Monica.

Debra Shepherd, Santa Monica