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During Hard Times, Affordable Housing Demand Skyrockets  

By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

August 24, 2011-- Santa Monica housing officials were inundated by unprecedented numbers of applicants seeking affordable housing this month.

The city's affordable housing waiting list opened for the first time in five years, and in just two days it attracted almost 34,000 new applicants, 3,919 of whom are Santa Monicans – nearly seven times the 2006 figure.

“Once we’ve exhausted our local list, then we can help everyone else,” Santa Monica Housing Administrator Julie Lansing told The Lookout Tuesday.

Lansing said the high turn out is partly due to the economic climate, but also because of the outreach done by many community organizations, including the Westside Center for Independent Living, WISE and Healthy Aging, Step Up on Second, OPCC and the St. Joseph’s Center.

The outreach was meant to assure that even though the application process could be handled online, people who may not be comfortable using a computer weren’t put at a disadvantage, Lansing said.

The waiting list is tiered, she said. People who are given first preference are those who live or work full time in Santa Monica, or if they are homeless in Santa Monica.

Veterans and Santa Monica residents who have been displaced as a result of government action are also given priority.

When people sign up for the waiting list, they are required to report basic information, including their current residence. It sometimes happens that they don’t do so correctly.

“Once we meet [the applicants], we’re required to verify what they’ve reported,” Lansing said. If it turns out that the applicant isn’t from Santa Monica, they are put on the part of the list for non-residents.

Lansing said that in the past, of 100 applications the city received, approximately 25 would make it to the interview part of the process. Of that 25, she said, maybe 5 would have correctly reported their information.

But because for the first time, the city is using an online process, Lansing thinks that will change.

“We expect the success rate to be higher because the information will be current. People can update their information online,” she said.

Even so, getting people off the list and into affordable housing will be slow.

On average, Lansing said, only about four rent vouchers for Section 8 Housing become available each month. In better economic times, she said, the average was ten a month.

Though there is a high demand, the supply of affordable housing hasn’t increased nearly as dramatically.

There are approximately 2,100 deed-restricted and Section 8 units in Santa Monica, Lansing said. About 60 are units for people who require some sort of care.

“Most likely, we will never call somebody off the list that doesn’t meet our local preference,” Lansing said.

However, once the list does begin to dwindle, either because people get put into housing or they drop off the list for other reasons, the city will open the list once again.


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