Submitted by Danielle Charney
POD (Preserve Our Diversity), is a program created to address the needs of very low and low-income senior’s living in rent-controlled housing for at least 20 years, in Santa Monica. The revenue stream, GS and GSH a ballot measure (2016) was created, as was the program, by Sue Himmelrich, Patricia Hoffman, Mike Soloff and others concerned with the growing need for a variety of solutions to the affordable housing crisis and homelessness.
POD was implemented in July of 2017 and went into effect in November of that year, with 22 participants in what was called Pilot 1 Program. It provides seniors with a payment that brings their income to $747 for a single person, after their rent is paid.
A great program at face value, and certainly badly needed as seniors are one of the most at-risk groups to become homeless, while many suffer from isolation and depression – a common result of poverty. The program is now expanding from the original 22 seniors to just over 200.
While the program expresses pride in that expansion and should, the proposed policies, as suggested by the Housing Authority, will no doubt, create stress as the years go by, unless they provide a yearly adjustment. All living expenses increase every year, while income is basically stagnant for many seniors. This adjustment is being denied with the reasons being “it is too much work”, and there is no money for an additional staff member who must be paid over $100,000 dollars to provide this adjustment to only some 200 participants. That is one a day. doesn’t sound like a full-time job to me, and certainly not one that warrants that level of pay. Also seems that it’s not much to ask of the existing staff at the Housing Authority who are well paid to add one person a day to their schedules.
While the expansion is commendable, the proposed policies are carefully constructed to be sure that most people will not get an adjustment for years, while their rent, utilities, medical and other expenses increase. The current proposal allows only a readjustment if a participants income increases or decreases to $200 dollars, or their rent increases to $100 dollars. These amounts are almost never reached in a year or even two or three. While the cumulative increases of expenses increases at under those levels, it will take years to reach those amounts, while seniors watch their small incomes erode, causing more stress, depression and isolation, and can result in homelessness or death.
This year, budget cuts saw an attempt to raise the Mode/Lyft program for seniors from 50 cents to $2.00 dollars per one-way trip, as well as cut the mental health group program at WISE, another indication that seniors are being asked to give up more and more, at a time in their lives that provides few options to be a part of any social function, thrive or simply survive in a decent manner. POD should not be part of that slide. That is not why it was created.
Every single housing program that has been successful in the history of alleviating the rent burden from those in need, is adjusted yearly for a reason. That reason being, it recognizes that everything goes up.
I urge those in charge to consider a part-time person to handle this adjustment, or require the highly paid existing staff to add one person per day to their current schedule.
I ask that the City Council makes this program fair and equitable to the seniors who have been through a very hard time in the City they look to for help. Don’t let this happen. A simple computer program can be created that seniors can fill out at home, to create the terms of their new payments or re-qualify. This can go directly to the financial department and a new amount will be calculated based on the data. We pride ourselves on a very highly paid tech department, but if not possible for the City to create this, these programs already exist and are used by the County to handle all adjustments. No one need send in one piece of paper by mail or go in person to an office. We should be on board with that. Please don’t allow the proposed policies to be adopted.
It is being said that the money is not available for these yearly assessments and increases, and that the needs of thousands are a priority, that those receiving this money are the lucky ones and they should not be greedy or uncaring about those waiting in the wings for the help. This is mostly being said by those well off and well employed, most of whom have never gone through and never will go through the miseries and degradation of what living in poverty as a senior -where the words “potential and possibilities”, much less “future” have been removed from the vocabulary does to the human spirit, keep it fair.
This is a great City that does so much for so many, surely the monies needed for to keep this program even more successful can be found somewhere. I can suggest a few places if anyone is interested.