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City Hires Director for New Department Focused on Housing and Homelessness

By Jorge Casuso

October 26, 2023 -- Heather Averick -- who has led a range of housing, food and advocacy programs for the poor and homeless -- will head a new department focused on affordable housing and homeless services, City officials announced this month.

Heather Averick A Santa Monica resident, Averick was appointed director of the newly established Housing and Human Services Department by City Manager David White. She will assume the post on November 13.

Averick most recently served as director of supportive housing for San Diego-based affordable housing developer Affirmed Housing, where she oversaw 19 permanent supportive housing communities across the State, City officials said.

She also has served as executive director and staff attorney for the nonprofit homeless advocacy group Think Dignity and executive director for the food assistance nonprofit Harvest of Hope Pantry.

“Heather has the background, expertise and passion our city needs to bring even greater focus on the City Council priority of addressing homelessness and ensuring that everyone in Santa Monica has an opportunity to thrive,” said City Manager David White.

“One of her first and most important tasks will be to facilitate the completion of our Homelessness Strategic Plan, along with advancing affordable housing projects and continuing to support the city’s social services safety net.”

The Housing and Human Services Department was established by the Council in June with the approval of the 2023-2025 biennial budget to serve as "the organization point" for homeless services and programs.

The new department will work to prevent housed Santa Monicans from becoming homeless, increase affordable housing, address the behavioral health needs of vulnerable individuals and advocate for regional capacity to address homelessness, City officials said.

It will use funding from a voter-approved tax hike on hotels, motels and home shares -- which is expected to raise $4.1 million a year -- to expand existing outreach efforts and interim housing.

The department also will administer programs funded by Measure GS, former Mayor Sue Himmelrich's transfer tax hike that is expected to generate some $50 million a year for affordable housing, homelessness prevention and public schools.

The City -- which has spent an estimated $42.5 million a year on homeless programs and services -- saw its homeless population increase from 807 individuals last year to 926, according to the annual homeless count ("Santa Monica's Homeless Numbers Rise After COVID-Driven Drop," May 4, 2023).

To address the worsening crisis, the City Council declared a Local Emergency on Homelessness in February to boost funding and speed up hiring more staff ("Council Votes to Declare Homelessness Emergency," February 15, 2023).

A month later, the Council unanimously directed staff to create the department Averick will lead ("Council Creates Department to Focus on Housing and Homelessness," March 13, 2023).

“This is my community," Averick said in a statement. "I'm honored to be joining a department and team that has worked tirelessly to support our most vulnerable.

“I look forward to being a part of their devoted efforts to invest in the community’s basic needs for education, housing and stability.”

Averick graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, public relations and Spanish and holds a juris doctor from California Western School of Law, City officials said.

Her starting salary will be $248,700.

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