At its April 26 meeting, the Beverly Hills City Council discussed adopting a measure to establish a means-tested housing assistance program. As part of the measure, the council would need to authorize the transfer of funds previously allocated to the Rent Subsidy program, developed for the pandemic, of about $700,000.
When first discussed at its March 15 meeting, the council directed staff to ensure the new program:
- Be eligible to those who are means tested and reside in a unit covered under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO unit)
- Prioritize seniors, the disabled, and families that have children in Beverly Hills schools (public or private not clear)
- Make payments each month directly to the landlords
- Contracts with a third party to more quickly determine eligibility and distribute funds
- Transfer all unspent funds from the Rental Assistance program into this program
Helen Morales, Deputy Director of Rent Stabilization, presented to council what staff had come up with using that council direction. But she in turn asked council to clarify direction on the respective income eligibility limits, a maximum monetary amount for monthly and annual assistance, eligibility limits on maximum allowable rent, and whether to prioritize those living in buildings owned by “mom and pop” landlords.
Using date provided by the California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program, Morales and her team adopted the income percentages the state used to determine the potential number of eligible homes in Beverly Hills. This resulted in finding 770 individuals below 80 percent median income level, with more than half being categorized as “extremely low income” at or below 30 percent area median income. Additional numbers from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) informed her team of income levels for seniors in town, showing approximately 40 percent of Beverly Hills seniors living at or below very low income.
“Monthly rents of $2,000 or less appear to be a natural breaking point that closely aligned with the ‘very low income’ households,” said Morales. She says the 2,006 units found to be at or below the $2,000 mark represent about one quarter of all RSO units, though she acknowledged this calculation doesn’t necessarily mean each of the units in question meet all of the means tested or other eligibility requirements. But Morales did confirm that, “Staff recommends that council limit housing assistance to households with very low income to ensure that assistance is provided to the most in need.”
Payments would cover 75 percent of the anticipated annual adjustment to rents, which is expected to be as high as an 8.5 percent increase due to inflation, and the 75 percent figure, according to Morales, was an attempt at establish some cost sharing between the city and tenant.
“I, for one, would be willing and interested, if the need arose, to add to that budget,” said Mayor Lili Bosse with regard to the $700,000.
Councilmember Bob Wunderlich was hung up on how the program can be assured to help mom and pop landlords and how to handle past due rent, and said he feels more work needs to be done before he can support any proposed new program.
“Like Bob, I’m not real comfortable with this,” commented Councilmember Lester Friedman. He pointed to too many unknown factors and numbers yet to be determined as his concern. “We just don’t have that data yet to tell us whether or not the program is really going to accomplish what we want.” But then he conceded, “Having said that, I think we need to get something into place and this is certainly a good start, but still an uncomfortable place for me to be right now.”
Mayor Bosse asked for clarification as to whether Friedman or Wunderlich were willing to act on the measure that evening, and if not, asked them to provide specific direction to staff.
Wunderlich said he would, “Like to see some structure added to the program that would offer some assistance with past due rent.” He also said he wanted to see aggregate amounts for what the total program would cost, and how much would go to landlords for past due rent as well as the amount that would be dedicated to rental assistance. He concluded these remarks by asking, “What budget would we need for this, and how widely do we want to extend it?”
Friedman also had questions with regard to past due rent getting to landlords. Of the 2,006 units the city staff projected to qualify for the program, he asked, “How many of those units really are in arrears?” He continued, “Are we ever going to get the data that really tells us how much this program is going to cost us?”
“A lot of our landlords are saying they’re getting paid through HousingIsKey.com” Morales responded, in lieu of staff’s admission they don’t have data on which specific landlords are still owed past rent. Housing is Key is a state funded program set up during the COVID pandemic to assist landlords and renters with making ends meet (the program is actually found at: https://housing.ca.gov/) She added, “Some [landlords] received more than 18 months [of past due rent] and received prospective rent going forward to December of this year.”
Also at play is uncertainty over what the Consumer Price Index-adjusted rent increase will be for the year, which affects how far that $700,000 can go in helping renters. Again asking that more work be done until a program is approved, Wunderlich asked, “What is the harm in waiting to see what that rent increase is going to be, to say what the specific amount of the subsidy will be?”
When it became Councilmember John Mirisch’s turn to weigh in, he insisted the property owners also be means tested to insure they are true “mom and pops,” saying, “You could have someone who owns a couple properties who is a zillionaire.” But Mirisch was also willing to be generous with the overall program, saying, “We have the $700,000 and I think we should be willing to kick in more to people on both sides who really need it.” Later, Mirisch stated he was willing to consider an additional $1-$2,000,000 million to support the program.
Vice Mayor Julian Gold asked staff to return with, “A clear definition of ‘mom and pop.’” He also suggested, with regard to past due rent, whether some mom and pop landlords receive priority attention, saying, “Are they older? Do they depend on it for their retirement income? They have to do more in terms of having to maintain it [their properties].” Then acknowledging he could come up with many additional conditions, he summed up by saying, “I think you have to come back with at least a framework for the variables that are underneath that.”
Mayor Bosse, who throughout the comments took the council’s temperature several times on timing of finalizing a proposal, spoke last by tradition, and seemed to sum up the concerns expressed during the evening but also reiterated her and her colleagues support for helping the most people possible as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, the council decided to return to this issue at its June 21 meeting following more staff work, and as more economic data – including the annual rental increase – will be available to work with. In addition, an Ad Hoc committee was formed to work with staff prior to June 21 to offer assistance and clarity in further developing the new program. That will be comprised of Councilmembers Gold and Wunderlich. Stay connected to Westside Voice for an update in June.
Stay informed. Sign up for The Westside Voice Newsletter
By clicking submit, you agree to share your email address with Westside Voice. We do not sell or share your information with anyone.