Culver City Observer -

Housing Crisis Averted?

Council Seeks Funds for Low Income Families

 

March 26, 2015

By Lynne Bronstein

Observer Reporter

Last September, the City Council discussed a projected funding shortfall for the housing programs provided by the City and Housing Authority. At the Council's March 23 meeting, the Council reexamined current housing programs and the problems of funding.

Culver City Community Development Director Sol Blumenfeld and Housing Director Tevis Barnes gave the Council a detailed staff report on the options available.

Formerly, Culver City's housing programs had been funded from two major sources: The Federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly known as "Section 8") and the former Culver City Redevelopment Agency's Low-Moderate Housing Fund (also known as the "Housing Set-Aside Fund"). The Federal Section 8 program was created pursuant to the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. Culver City has participated in that program since 1975.

The current housing assistance options provided by the city include: Section 8; a Rental Assistance Program (RAP) that supplements Section 8; a homeless rental assistance program created in fiscal year 2013/2014 to support families transitioning from Upward Bound House's Emergency Family Shelter Program; and a homeless outreach program administered via a contract with Saint Joseph's Center.

There are also some indirect assistance programs including Implementation of the Comprehensive Housing Strategy, Covenant Monitoring, Real Property Management, and Fair Housing Referrals.

Funding for housing programs is provided by federal funds and by the balance of remaining CCRA funds. While it is forecast that funding for Section 8 will remain stable, it looks like there is little interest by the State to provide a replacement for funding lost in the dissolution of redevelopment.

Blumenfeld mentioned the idea of a local housing linkage fee (a fee applied as a per square foot cost on commercial development). As a fee imposed to mitigate the impacts of commercial development on the demand for affordable housing in the City, the funds would need to be applied toward the creation of new affordable housing units. But such a fee would be subject to fluctuations. "It would not be enough," Blumenfeld concluded.

Barnes talked about the city's RAP Program which was created for residents and currently has a waiting list of 600 people, with 48 families currently on the program. The City could cut costs by funding RAP with General Funds in which case the City could change the current subsidy percentage.

Should the City opt to phase-out RAP, there are three scenarios, said Barnes: a one-year phase out, a three-year phase-out and an indefinite phase-out. Should a phase-out be implemented, staff recommends that the City contract with the services of a relocation specialist, such as the organization Alternative Living for the Aging, which finds roommates for those in need of housing.

When it was time for public comment, a problem developed as a number of speakers wanted to discuss a housing alternative provided by Habitat for Humanity and to ask the City to approve the Habitat idea. Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells said that while Habitat's project deserved to be considered, it was not part of the agenda item being discussed and that the speakers who advocated for it should cede to the many other speakers who were present to speak on rental assistance. "We will let them (the Habitat advocates) have a time at a future meeting," said Sahli-Wells.

Those who were present to speak about housing assistance praised the programs provided for Culver City and emphasized that they would be unable to live in Culver City without such aid. One woman said that without the rental assistance program it would be extremely difficult for her to find housing that would be appropriate for her as a handicapped person.

Council member Mehaul O' Leary said "This issue was one that caused me a lot of anxiety....we have a situation where people's lives, people's homes are on a balancing act and none of the reasons that their lives and homes are on this balancing act is their fault." He noted that when redevelopment money was available, "there was 20 million in set-aside funds and nobody wanted to build anything.

"As a city we caused this problem." he concluded, angrily suggesting that the City would have to be creative and find the money somehow.

Jeff Cooper agreed, saying that he was not willing to see people thrown out of their homes and that maybe some bonuses (such as funds from the recent sale of the Pacific Theaters) could be used to save RAP.

Jim Clarke wanted to see rental assistance continue but also for the City to create more affordable housing stock. "If we're all family then we all have to chip in."

Andrew Weissman did not want to cut rental assistance immediately but also did not want to see rental assistance programs continue "in perpetuity."

Sahli-Wells remarked that the stories the Council had heard from speakers were not the kind of stories that were easy to hear but they had to be told. She supported the continuance of rental assistance but also supported an indefinite phase-out.

'We don't have funding any more but we do have priorities."

 

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