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Housing Commission Pushes to Connect Voucher Holders and Landlords


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By Jorge Casuso

January 24, 2024 -- More than 100 prospective tenants with housing vouchers may be finding it difficult to rent an apartment in Santa Monica, and the City's Housing Commission wants to do something about it.

On January 31, the Commission -- composed of four Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) holders and three property owners -- will hold a "first-of-its-kind" Housing Voucher Town Hall meeting on January 31 at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

The special Commission meeting "will address common concerns about the (voucher) program, dispel persistent myths and misunderstandings about how it works, answer common questions, and solicit feedback to improve the city’s HCV implementation," the Commissioners said.

"This is an opportunity to learn more about Housing Vouchers and share your experiences, both the good and not so good," according to an announcement for the meeting issued Tuesday.

While the vast majority of the City's approximately 1,800 voucher holders have found a home, Santa Monica could do more to help connect the more than 100 who may still be hunting for a place.

"We've had people speak during public comment," said Gomez, who is a Santa Monica resident and landlord. "There's a lot of confusion about the do's and don'ts of vouchers due to lack of education.

"And that's what we're trying to change," he said.

A key issue is that the acceptance rate for voucher holders in Santa Monica is 42 percent, similar to Los Angeles' rate but far below that of San Diego, which has an 80 percent acceptance rate, Gomez said.

The acceptance rate is low despite a federal program that distributed some 70,000 Emergency Housing Vouchers (EVH) nationwide nearly three years ago.

Santa Monica secured 104 of the vouchers paid for with $1.1 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act to "assist individuals and families who are homeless."

According to a November 2022 article in the Los Angeles Times, "The new program came with higher rent caps, extra money for landlord incentives and laxer documentation requirements than Section 8 vouchers.

In May 2022, one year after the Santa Monica Housing Authority (SMHA) received the vouchers, only six of the 79 active EHV holders had been able to find housing, City officials said ("Homeless to Be Given Priority for Low-Income Housing," May 12, 2022).

"Vouchers have caps on rent limits," Human Services Administrator Margaret Willis said at the time. "Rental assistance alone is not going to address this issue."

The Housing Commission estimates there could be more than 100 voucher holders trying to find a place to live.

"We don't know how many are actively looking for housing," Gomez said. "It could be a hundred or more."

Gomez believes Santa Monica should follow the aggressive lead of San Diego, which holds monthly voucher workshops geared to landlords.

"They provide incentives to both housing providers and voucher holders," Gomez said. "They have a multitude of tools, including portals. They promote, they market and they provide an incredible level of assistance..

"If anything, there has been institutionalized divisiveness among stakeholders in Santa Monica," Gomez said. "That's why we're holding this town hall."

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