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Response to Program Underscores Need for Affordable Housing, Officials Say

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 22 -- The number of applicants for Section 8 housing has more than doubled since Santa Monica last opened its doors to the highly coveted federally funded program six years ago, according to City officials.

While housing officials said it could be weeks before all the applications are returned, the City printed a record 9,500 forms during the three-week application period from July 24 to August 14.

Only 500 blank one-page sheets were recovered, and between 8,000 and 8,500 are estimated to have been handed out, officials said.

“It’s hard to say how many were actually picked up,” said housing authority administrator Peter Mezza. “We won’t have that number for a number of weeks until they actually get input into the database.”

But as many as 7,500 names of people seeking rental vouchers could be added to the current list seeking one of 1,092 vouchers currently offered through the City, Mezza estimated.

That’s more than twice the 3,500 applicants accepted in 2000 -- 500 of whom have yet to receive assistance and will be offered vouchers before any new applicants are admitted to the program, according to Mezza.

“There’s going to be about a six month wait until we get to a person on the new list,” Mezza said.

Still, the wait may be worth it. The vouchers pay one third of the recipients’ annual adjusted gross income for an apartment in buildings whose owners are part of the program.

In the coveted beachside city, that means a voucher can cover as much as $1,099 for a studio, $1,352 for a one-bedroom unit, $1,853 for a two bedroom unit and $2,411 for units with three or more bedrooms.

Strict guidelines and preferences, however, may weed out some applicants, housing officials said.

Only individuals defined as very low income by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can qualify. In Santa Monica, that means those who make less than 50 percent of the median income for Los Angeles County, or $24,250 for an individual, $27,700 for a family of two and $31,200 for a family of three.

In addition, a local preference will be given to those who already live or work in Santa Monica, while a State preference favors veterans and their families.

The sharp increase in the number of applicants disturbed, but did not surprise Bob Moncrief, the City’s Housing and Redevelopment manager.

“The program truly serves the poorest of the poor, so it’s not surprising the demand,” Moncrief said. “The demand for affordable housing continues to grow.”

Increased rents, land cost and economic disparity all contribute to the flood of new applicants, he said.

“I’m not an economist, but the gap between the rich and poor is growing,“ said Moncrief. “Rents are going up and are almost out of reach.”

Nearly 70 percent of those currently served by the program are elderly or disabled mentally or physically, Moncrief said.

The other 30 percent are the homeless and destitute, and that number may rise in coming years as City officials consider using more redevelopment money to help house the homeless who have been on the streets the longest.

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