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San Diego Councilwoman Wants More Authority Over Housing Commission

San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez speaks during a council meeting, ...

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez speaks during a council meeting, Dec. 12, 2016.

San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez wants the City Council to have more of a say in the San Diego Housing Commission's decisions.

That includes its recent call not to join a federal program that would give bigger housing vouchers to people who want to live in more expensive neighborhoods.

The point is to diversify neighborhoods and give voucher holders access to better schools, transit, jobs and grocery stores.

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

The housing commission rolled out its own scaled-down version of the program this year, which boosts payments to voucher holders to live in more expensive neighborhoods, but not as much as the federal program would.

After a KPBS investigation showed the housing commission is not using the program meant to desegregate communities, Gomez asked its staff to report to the Smart Growth and Land Use committee. Now, she said, she would like the committee to vote next month on whether the City Council should take on more oversight of the housing commission.

"The fact that the council gave authority to the housing commission was a mistake," Gomez told KPBS, referring to a City Council decision that gave the housing commission autonomy over how vouchers and other programs are structured.

At the Smart Growth and Land Use committee meeting this week, Jeff Davis, the housing commission's executive vice president and chief of staff, said the commission is cautious about raising housing voucher amounts because that could mean fewer people overall get vouchers. He said the commission needs to be sure it has the budget to pay for those increased vouchers not just in the coming year, but for several years.

"Once you raise the payment standards, it's maybe the hardest decision a housing authority has to make because you're saying, from here on out we're going to pay more money and so you really need to be confident you can do that," he said.

RELATED: San Diego To Boost Housing Vouchers, But Declines More Generous Approach

In response, Gomez said she can understand that argument but, "I'm frustrated that that discussion was taken away from us when we are accountable to ensure all public money is serving what it's supposed to be."

Gomez said she is not sure that giving out more vouchers that are worth less money is the right solution because it means people can not use the vouchers to cover high San Diego rents.

"If who we're helping is not getting enough, how do we address that, because that leads to people not be able to utilize vouchers at all," she said.

Davis said the San Diego Housing Commission based the amount of its vouchers on 2016 rent amounts provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but that it will be reevaluating its voucher amounts this year.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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