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Few Qualify for Much Touted 'Right to Return' Program
By Jorge Casuso
March 31, 2023 -- A total of 11 applicants have qualified for Santa Monica's nationally publicized "Right to Return" program that gives priority for affordable housing to households displaced from the city's Black and Latino neighborhoods more than 60 years ago.
None of the qualified applicants -- who were placed near the top of the wait list for City-funded and inclusionary housing -- has yet to sign a lease, "though some are in process of submitting applications to property owners," staff informed the City Council on Friday.
To qualify, households must provide proof that they or their relatives were displaced from the Belmar Triangle neighborhood in the 1950s to pave the way for the Civic Center or from the 10 Freeway areas in the 1960s.
The program -- which gives priority to as many as 100 "historically displaced households, including children and grandchildren" -- received a total of 134 applications, staff said.
"Because of the limited number of applications received, staff reviewed all submitted applications rather than conducting a lottery to select 100 for review," staff wrote.
Of those who applied, 71 "did not respond with documentation or withdrew their application, and another 36 applicants were determined to be ineligible because they were not displaced or were displaced from outside of Santa Monica," staff said.
In addition to the 11 applications approved, 16 applications "are still pending to allow more time for the applicants to find sufficient documentation regarding their family’s historical displacement."
Approved by the Council in July 2021 during a national conversation concerning reparations for victims of racism, Santa Monica's program received widespread media coverage.
The national coverage included reports in Reuters, ABC News, NPR, the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, as well as in local media outlets.
City employees helped each applicant try to secure decades-old documents showing their family’s address was located within the impacted areas, staff said.
They reviewed City Council legislative records, scoured City directories (which did not always include renters) and reviewed California Department of Transportation records.
"None of the files located included names of families or individuals impacted," staff said.
Successful applicants were able to provide the family's old address and documentation, such as a birth certificate, showing they were "a descendant of the original family member at that address."
The program was a response to "historic zoning practices and land use decisions" that displaced thousands of minority households living in Santa Monica, staff said when the item was placed before the Council ("Council to Consider 'Right to Return' Program," July 7, 2021).
Bounded by Pico Boulevard and Main and Fourth streets, the Belmar Triangle was the heart of Santa Monica's Black community in the first half of the 20th century.
Rows of shotgun houses and neighborhood businesses lined the streets near the ocean before City leaders condemned and destroyed the black-owned properties to build the Civic Auditorium under a national program called Build America Better.
A decade later, poor Black and Latino households were displaced when the State of California used eminent domain to purchase houses along what would become the I-10 Freeway that split the Pico Neighborhood in two in the 1960s.
While the "Right to Return" program will be kept in place, staff said they "do not expect a large demand going forward."
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