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Measures to Address Historic Racism in Housing Get Approval
By Jorge Casuso
July 14, 2021 -- Steps were taken at both the state and local levels Tuesday night to address racist housing polices and practices that took place in the past century.
The Santa Monica City Council approved a pilot "Right to Return" program that gives priority for affordable housing to households -- predominantly Black and Latino -- displaced by urban renewal projects in the 1950s and 60s.
Hours later, a bill sponsored by State Assemblymember Richard Bloom that addresses "the vestiges of racist and exclusionary language in housing covenants" passed a key Senate committee.
Approved unanimously, the City's program is expected to place as many as 100 "historically displaced households, including children and grandchildren" near the top of the wait list for City-funded and inclusionary housing, City officials said.
“With this pilot, we strive to reach former residents or their descendants who were wrongly displaced from our community and to bring them back to Santa Monica through our affordable housing program,” said Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich.
To qualify, households must provide proof that they or their relatives were displaced in the 1950s or 1960s from the Belmar Triangle neighborhood to pave the way for the Civic Center or from the 10 Freeway areas ("Council to Consider 'Right to Return' Program," Juy 7, 2021).
Himmelrich urged individuals or their families who lost their homes "to apply for below market housing opportunities and to work with us as we look to craft a permanent program.”
Throughout the pilot, City staff will "test and evaluate outreach strategies, applicant demand, the availability of historical documentation (and) verification processes," officials said.
Staff also will evaluate "compliance with governing legislation, and the administrative resources required to implement a broader program."
"Households facing immediate displacement due to the Ellis Act, government action, natural disaster, or similar evictions" will continue to be given top priority, City officials said.
Pilot program applicants will be referred to affordable housing opportunities once eligibility has been completed, officials said. For more information click here
Also on Tuesday, AB 721 -- sponsored by former Santa Monica Mayor Bloom -- was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee with solid support.
The bill would "provide property owners with a process to remove exclusionary language in housing deeds to allow for more affordable and supportive housing that is consistent with local zoning," according to Bloom's office.
"While court decisions and the California Legislature have made racially restrictive housing covenants unenforceable, these covenants often contain other vestiges of discrimination."
These include limits on the number and size of units that can be built, Bloom's office said.
"Despite their discriminatory origin and clear conflict with local zoning, these restrictions remain enforceable against an affordable housing developer," his office said.
This can lead to threats of lawsuits over the restrictive covenants that make it difficult for affordable housing developers to get title insurance coverage and funding from lenders, according to Bloom.
"This is a necessary measure to promote the equitable development of affordable and supportive housing in the state," Bloom said.
AB 721 is supported by the California Apartment Association, Public Counsel and the Santa Monica Community Corporation, the city's largest affordable housing provider.
The bill is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
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