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Hopefuls Rush for Low-income Housing Vouchers

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

July 25 -- For the first time in six years, the doors to affordable Section 8 housing in Santa Monica opened Monday, and City officials are expecting a flood of new applicants.

In the first three hours, more than 100 applications were handed out, and City housing officials are bracing for thousands more, said Peter Mezza, an administrator for the City’s Housing Authority.

Mezza “guessed” that as many as 5,000 may apply for the federal vouchers that allow those with low incomes to pay one third of their annual adjusted gross income for a coveted apartment in the beachside city. That number, Mezza added, could be much higher.

“Given the cost of housing and rent are moving at a faster clip than benefits and earnings, I’d say there is more demand for affordable housing” than there was when applications were last taken six years ago, Mezza said.

For three weeks – from July 24 to August 14 – applicants can grab a single page form at 11 locations in and around Santa Monica and mail it to the City’s Housing Authority for a shot at one of 1,092 coveted Section 8 vouchers to be released by the City. Those who qualify will be given a lengthier form to fill out.

More than 500 applicants who have been on the waiting list since 2000 will be given first crack at the vouchers. A local preference will also be granted to those who already live or work in Santa Monica, while a state preference favors veterans and their families.

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.

The vouchers, which can only be used in apartment buildings whose owners are part of the program, 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.

The number of applicants could be so great that it could be several years before the list is reopened after the August deadline, housing officials said.

“It could be as many as four or five years,” Mezza said.

Although housing officials have printed nearly 4,000 applications – 500 more than the total number number of applicants six years ago – they expect those won’t last long and more will need to be printed.

Despite the large application pool, strict income requirements and a lengthy review process, the time and effort it takes to win a voucher is well worth it, officials said.

Adding to the demand for affordable housing are federal cutbacks three years ago that resulted in fewer dollars per voucher for many housing authorities, especially those in California, where 165,000 of the 2 million vouchers nationwide are used, Mezza said.

Unlike other housing authorities, Santa Monica has not had to issue fewer vouchers or devalue them because the city is deemed more expensive than other areas and has qualified for an “exception payment standard” for the last five years, Mezza said.

Once applicants pick up and fill out the application form, it must be mailed to the Santa Monica Housing Authority at P.O. Box 90608, Industry, CA. 91715-0608

Applications must be post marked no earlier than July 24, 2006 and no later than August 14, 2006. Only original applications will be accepted.

For more information call 1-888-628-7597. Home bound and disabled applicants can request that an application be mailed to them by calling the same toll free number or faxing their request to 562-695-2120.

Applications are available at the following Santa Monica locations:

  • City Hall Information Desk-(1685 Main St.)
  • Ken Edwards Center (1527 4th St.)
  • All Public Libraries (601 Santa Monica Blvd.,2101 Ocean Park Blvd., 1704 Montana Ave. and 2601 Main St.)
  • Legal Aid Santa Monica Office (1640 5th St.#124)
  • Virginia Avenue Park-Center Office (2200 Virginia Ave.)
  • WISE Senior Center (1527 4th St.)
  • Step Up on Second (1328 2nd St.)
  • St. Joseph Center (400 West Pico Blvd.)
  • Clare Foundation (911 Pico Blvd.)

Outside of Santa Monica, applications can be found at two locations.

  • New Directions on the Veterans Administration campus (11303 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles-VA Building 16
  • Westside Center for Independent Living (12901 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles)
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