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Homeless to Be Given Priority for Low-Income Housing

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By Jorge Casuso

May 12, 2022 -- The City Council on Wednesday green-lighted a plan to move those with emergency housing vouchers (EHV), most of them homeless, to the top of the Santa Monica's waiting list for low-income housing.

The waiting list for the City's Below Market Housing (BMH) program currently prioritizes people who live or work in Santa Monica and meet the income requirements, City officials said.

At Thursday's special meeting, the Council asked staff to update the program's priorities "to put EHV holders first on the waitlist after those who are facing eviction due to the Ellis Act or similar reasons."

"This alignment will further support the City’s implementation of the EHV program, while facilitating the turnover of additional interim housing beds," City officials said after the meeting.

This would allow "vulnerable individuals encountered by City first responders and street engagement teams (to) move out of Santa Monica’s parks, beach and streets and into shelter.

"In the short term, this change might result in other households waiting slightly longer on the BMH waitlist," City officials said.

Staff is expected to return to the Council with a proposal within 30 to 60 days, officials said.

The vouchers distributed by HUD under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) are expected to have only a modest impact in helping those who are homeless move into a permanent apartment, City officials have said.

During a media briefing on the City's homeless count last week, Human Services Administrator Margaret Willis acknowledged that the effectiveness of the emergency program is "limited."

There are 79 active EHV holders in Santa Monica, Willis said. Six have been able to find housing in Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

"Vouchers have caps on rent limits," Willis said. "Rental assistance alone is not going to address this issue."

According to an update posted by Willis on the City's website in March, the Santa Monica Housing Authority supports approximately 1,600 low-income households with vouchers for permanent housing.

The City secured 104 new housing vouchers from the federal government that "will help move people out of local shelters and into permanent housing," Willis said.

According to HUD, which has provided some 70,000 emergency vouchers, the program will "assist individuals and families who are homeless."

It also will help those "at-risk of homelessness, fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking, or were recently homeless or have a high risk of housing instability."

At its special meeting on the homeless crisis Wednesday, the Council also approved up to $200,000 to expand legal and support services to Santa Monica renters at risk of eviction.

The money will be used to contract the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) under an "award made as an exception to the competitive bidding process," staff wrote in its report to the Council.

"With (eviction) moratoriums expiring and rent relief programs winding down, tenants who are still struggling are being served with eviction notices at an alarming rate," staff said.

The Council also endorsed potential new investments to address homelessness, as resources become available.

“Our constant attention is critical to addressing homelessness in Santa Monica," said Mayor Sue Himmelrich.

"The Council’s investments respond to community questions and concerns, but more importantly, they connect people to life-saving resources and into permanent housing,” Himmelrich said.

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