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San Diego Council Committee To Hear From Housing Commission On Voucher Program

An apartment building that accepts housing vouchers in the Rolando neighborho...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: An apartment building that accepts housing vouchers in the Rolando neighborhood of San Diego, January 19, 2018.

The San Diego Housing Commission will appear before a council committee later this month to explain its decision to opt out of a federal program aimed at desegregating cities.

Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, who chairs the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee, asked the housing commission to appear on March 21 to explain its reasoning for the way it hands out vouchers, she said in a statement to KPBS.

"I look forward to hearing from the commission and addressing my concerns," she said.

Video by Katie Schoolov

She made the move after a KPBS story showed the housing commission was choosing a scaled-down version of a federal program that would give people bigger housing vouchers to live in more expensive neighborhoods.

Councilman David Alvarez, the vice chair of the committee, said he did not know the San Diego Housing Commission was changing its voucher program until he heard about it from KPBS.

RELATED: San Diego Won’t Join Federal Voucher Program Aimed At Desegregating Neighborhoods

At the beginning of the year, the housing commission passed out written copies of its annual report, which included the change. But Alvarez said that wasn't enough.

"They're trying to say that we somehow received notice but I will tell you that is a pretty big notice," he said. "I think anyone in the position that is making a decision that is that significant of a change should have flagged this as something more important and perhaps there should have been more of a detailed briefing on it. And so that did not occur, at least it didn't with me and I don't think that it did with the rest of the council."

A spokesman for the San Diego Housing Commission confirmed they will appear before the council committee to present an informational item.

In a statement to KPBS, CEO Rick Gentry said, "I look forward to continuing discussions with Councilmember Alvarez and all of the Councilmembers about the Choice Communities Initiative, which provides the families we serve with more flexibility in choosing where they wish to live while harming no one."

In an interview with KPBS last month, Gentry said he does not want to use the federal program because it could decrease voucher amounts for people who live in poorer neighborhoods, or because it could mean there are fewer total vouchers to give out.

"It's simple algebra," Gentry said. "If the rents increase enough so that we don't have enough money to cover 15,500 families, we start lopping families off the list."

Alvarez said he met with Gentry but has asked for data to support the claims.

"And I have not seen any evidence to this day that shows that there is a negative impact to voucher holders," Alvarez said. "Now the housing commission keeps saying if we use that formula it's going to hurt people, but again until I see the evidence that's not the judgment I have."

Alvarez said his overall goal is to find a program that decreases segregation in San Diego.

"This is really a threat to our community because we are not integrating," he said. "When we do not have balanced communities, we don't have people who live close to where they work and that creates traffic situations. It has an impact on the overall quality of life for all San Diego. When we have policies that don't really incentivize people of all walks of life to live throughout this community."

Two other council members also told KPBS the council should review the housing commission's voucher program.

In a statement, Councilman Chris Ward said he believes the City Council "should thoroughly vet" the program.

"With such a high demand and few resources available, any changes to the voucher program must prove to increase housing affordability and accessibility," he said. "This is particularly important as we seek to be flexible in program designs to maximize opportunities in a high-cost region, without reducing total support potential."

Ward's "primary objective is to ensure that all families who express an interest in housing assistance are given an equal opportunity and are treated in a fair and consistent manner," his statement continued.

Council President Myrtle Cole said in a statement, "Getting people into affordable housing and housing affordability is a top priority for me and this Council. I am open to hearing proposals that accomplish that goal and reduce the number of individuals and families on the long waiting list to get into affordable housing."

Gentry told KPBS last month that if the council instructs him to follow a different voucher program, he will.

"I mean technically I work for the City Council, they don't work for me, I'm the hired help here," he said. "And I've got a real simple job. My job is to provide advice to my board on what their policy should be. And then to implement their policies whatever they are. So if the council came to me and told me that the council believed otherwise, it would be my duty to implement council policy."

The San Diego Housing Commission will appear before a council committee later this month to explain its decision to opt out of a federal program aimed at desegregating cities.

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