Holes in the Safety Net

Low-Income Program Has No Emergency Housing

Friday, August 30, 2013
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On the Thursday before the Summer Solstice parade, June 20, I woke from a nap and saw to my horror that the entire next-door apartment building was completely engulfed in flames. I scrambled to get my mother and my brother out of the house. While the firefighters of Santa Barbara put out the fire, spectators who lived nearby watched our apartment burn as if it were live entertainment.

As our belongings, security, and lives went up in fire and smoke, a fireman asked if we were in need of emergency services. In shock, we told him yes, and so began my Alice in Wonderland experience with “emergency housing services.” The Red Cross arrived at 3:30 a.m. to secure emergency housing for the weekend and gave us a $95 debit card for food. Still in shock, I wondered, What happens Monday?

My apartment building is owned by the Santa Barbara Community Housing Corporation, a private low-income housing organization that owns different properties in the area and works with the city Housing Authority (HACSB) accepting Section 8 vouchers for federal, city, and county grants. My landlord advised me that he had no vacancies. We had no choice but to go back to our Section 8 apartment.

My mother’s bedroom, the kitchen, and the living room were less damaged than my room from the fire. As cleaned up the mess, I contacted my case manager at the HACSB, who said the agency would try to find housing but that my landlord had to help me find a place since the fire was not our fault. Since my landlord had no vacancies, I asked HACSB about its emergency housing services. When I received Section 8 three years ago, I was told that the disabled, senior citizens, and those in need of emergency housing were given the highest priority. I am my mother’s caregiver; she is 68 years old and seriously disabled with health issues such as osteochondral lesions in both knees (no cartilage) — a painful, crippling problem — herniated discs in her upper and lower back, diabetes, a heart condition, and a colostomy bag that I change every other week. We are both low income since her income consists of SSI and mine unemployment since I was laid off by the very company I rented from and work part-time as my mother’s in-home supportive services caregiver. I believed we more than met the criteria of “emergency housing.” I was wrong.

HACSB did not place us in one of its many available apartment units. The Housing Authority had a partner nonprofit counseling agency meet with us to assist in locating a place, but the counselor revealed that this could take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. The counselor referred us to to look for Section 8 apartments or homes. This sounds like a win right? We can take our Section 8 to any place that accepts Section 8. Well, the catch is, the agency does not locate the landlords for you. You have to locate the landlords on your own. And no landlord accepts section 8 in Santa Barbara. Those very few who do are full.

In my search for a new home I found that landlords view Section 8 holders as poverty-stricken, almost homeless, troublesome rabble and squalid property risks. The 10-year outdated list of property management companies given to me by HACSB had no vacancies whatsoever for Section 8. Other private nonprofit low-income housing organizations all have waiting lists. People’s Self-Help Housing, which has a contractual partnership with HACSB, advised me that it has a one- to three-year waiting list and performs credit checks on all applicants, who must pay a $20 fee per application. This nonprofit agency like a lot of other nonprofit agencies receives grant monies just for being a nonprofit housing agency, yet it charges $20 per application and runs credit checks on low income people, which is the target population that it is supposed be assisting. It had no emergency housing assistance services for my mother and me, even though Self-Help Housing and HACSB have a joint low-income property in which they could’ve housed us.

When I called the Red Cross and explained the issues we were experiencing, the Red Cross told us that we should go to the homeless shelter Casa Esperanza for housing services. Little did they know that Casa Esperanza also has a waiting list. So does Salvation Army’s Hospitality House, and usually these services are for single adults and not for an adult male who is the caregiver for his disabled and senior citizen mother.

My landlord was now telling me that my mother and I had to vacate the premises. I had to consult with an attorney to understand my legal rights, and I learned that a landlord is not responsible for the loss of a tenant’s personal items. Tenants are responsible for obtaining renter’s insurance to safeguard against tragedies such as mine. Nor is the landlord responsible for the temporary housing of the tenant. However, the law does state that one the propery is repaired, a landlord must offer the premises back to the renter. Once my landlord heard that I had consulted an attorney, he cut a $1,000 check for assistance, returned our $1,118 deposit, and returned our $62 prorated rent. That was all we had to cover what we had lost in the fire, to help us move, to help us start over. It went to food, an ice chest, and application fees and credit checks for apartments in Ventura and Santa Barbara and Lompoc. Luckily, with the help of my brother and friends, we found a place in Lompoc. Non-Section 8, of course. My brother had to move in with us to help us financially.

During my ordeal, I learned that all the housing services in Santa Barbara did not, in fact, have emergency housing programs at all. All they had were outdated lists, waiting lists, and time-consuming procedures and protocols. As The Santa Barbara Independent wrote on July 17, 2013, the county’s Lompoc Housing and Community Development was investigated by the federal government for misspending or failing to report expenditures of grant monies totaling, since 2005 to present, $10.8 million, which was given for subsidized housing for the low- and very low-income communities. The feds would do well to audit all nonprofit agencies that also work with the County of Santa Barbara and other interlocking agencies that are funded by these very grants. The services these grant monies are supposed to be funding aren’t being given to the communities that need them. Where is this money going?

While this impropriety is ongoing, people remain homeless and destitute, and the social services arena continues to be infested with corruption. This is why the homeless, low-income, and poverty-stricken communities of Santa Barbara never seem to get better. We’re not allowed to. We are being victimized by the very agencies receiving federal grants to help us.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

It is a sad story. But this man received relocation assistance which is not required.

local (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 1:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Housing Authority in Lompoc has been a real help to me and my family. They too usually have a waiting list which is full a lot of the time, but they did move my wheelchair bound wife, myself and a enough room left over for a fulltime IHSS worker, also her son. While they are so busy it can be hard to connect with the right person to help you, once you are in it is for life unless too many rules are broken. When my wife passed away they were in no rush to make me move to a smaller unit and I thank them for being so understanding. Emotionally I could never of done it.
We only found out about the list being open by word of mouth or we would probably of missed it. May I suggest trying them if you haven't already. They have been a blessing and we found 99% of them very easy to work with.
Now as my health continues to fail they are proving to be working above and beyond just working there for the paycheck. It took us a couple yrs to get the 1st Apt from them, but it was worth it. I believe they are due to open a new apt building near the Home Depot and you can be sure the handicap units go fast so please don't procrastinate.
I wish you the best of luck and hope I didn't make anyone angry at the Housing Authority, that is the last thing I wanted to do. I just wish to give you some hope and advice, but I am far from a expert on any of this save my own exp.s with them That and I don't think enough people standup for those that have given much needed help in this economy.
Welcome to Lompoc. It reminds me of Santa Barbara back in the 60's when peoples handshake meant something and even when so many of those I had never met,had the ready smile and " hi, how are you" that I remember from my childhood in SB before prices when nuts and thousand fled LA.

SmileySam (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 4:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

When I first arrived in the U.S. I lived in an apartment building that burned down. I was the only renter with insurance and the only immigrant and non English speaker. So while I sympathize with Roberto, I also remember that I bought renters insurance, in spite of being flat broke, and ended up being covered; I never did or do expect anyone to take all responsibility for something tragic that could happen to me or mine.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 6:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Renter's insurance is a smart thing to get just as fire insurance is for your landlord. If he's not adequately covered, I'm sure his losses far exceed yours. Now your landlord returns excess rent, your deposit and pays you a relocation fee and you still think you've been swindled. All he's left with is a burnt out building, no income and tenants wanting money from him. And it was probably a tenant that burned down the building anyway. Do you still wonder why landlords don't want to accept section 8 tenants?

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 7:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Landlord's losses far exceed the renter? Did the landlord's residence burn down and lose all his possessions? Is this landlord looking for emergency housing? You can't put a landlord and his renters on equal footing. Economically, they are far from equal.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 11:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Well you are right, but not the way you think you are. What's a Santa Barbara apartment building worth compared to a typical tenant's possessions? You're right. Far from equal.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 11:15 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think some people are missing the overall point of the article. The fact that these agencies receive government funding, but because of greed and misappropriation, are not channeling them to those in need, is something to be concerned about. This goes above and beyond Renters Insurance, and Landlord losses. Even if this gentleman did everything by the book, it still doesn't take away from real issue, especially when that "landlord" is actually one of those agencies in question.

Strykes (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 11:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

spacey, Botany ALWAYS posts from the landlord's perspective since he is one. And from his posts, I'd guess a conscientious and solid landlord, unlike many.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 11:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I don’t think the main issue was with the landlord. I think the main issue is that County, City and Non-profit agencies receiving Federal grants for the low-income and very low-income people are not servicing them. If this wasn’t the case, than The County Department of Housing and Community Development in Lompoc would not be under Federal Scrutiny. If these funds are supposed to be available for people that genuinely need them, then ethically, they should be rendered to those that need them. This applies for Non-profit agencies under contract with County and City Housing agencies as well. To withhold emergency housing all the while maintaining when applying for federal grants that you give emergency, is nothing short of fraud and smacks of impropriety. I think the Federal Government frowns on things like that. As well they should.

Enki (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 12:40 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am appalled at the mention of comparison. Who are we to assume that a "section 8" person has no belongings of worth? Heirlooms, family history, photographs...things that are irreplaceable are lost in these situations. You cannot put a price on the anxiety and helplessness that results from such a tragedy either. That I believe is where the system fails and exactly what the author is speaking about. That feeling of security is lost and then compounded by "relief" being non-existent. I know friends that were hard effected by the economic downturn. They are not reprobates or drug addled losers. They are hard working people with real life issues trying to heal and still survive on a daily basis.

dharmasue (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 12:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes landlords have more to lose than a section 8 tenant in terms of money. That is not in dispute.

The article highlights two things for me:
The need to take personal responsibility for your own well being and stuff;
The inadequacy of agencies charged with helping those folks in need.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 1:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hey, no one is making judgments on their value as individuals. The fire is certainly a tragedy, but It's a dollars and cents issue and should be treated as such. Ideally, both the tenant and the landlord would be covered by their own insurance plan. I'm not sure what the landlord's coverage was, but the tenant clearly decided to do without it. After the fire, the tenant realized his belongings would not be replaced, and was upset that the landlord would not replace the belongings or provide additional assistance, so he hired a lawyer. The landlord should return the deposit and the prorated rent that was prepaid, but the $1000 for assistance was just an extorted payoff to get the guy's lawyer out of his hair. The landlord had no obligation to pay that money. There is a sense of entitlement from this tenant that can't be denied.

I bet this landlord is cursing the day he decided to accept section 8 tenants and hopes he never takes another one.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 2:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I understand that a landlord lost more money in this than a renter, but the renter lost the roof over his head and apparently the system's safety net was/is not there. Not judging, but pointing out that money is of utmost importance to some. My belief is that's what's wrong with America. Somebody has to be the dishwasher, cashier, short order cook, but they shouldn't have to live so close to the edge while America is a socialist country to banks, elected representatives, oil companies, and people who have more than their fair share. Enki brings up some interesting things worth thinking about, but really there is no surprise at another fail for the government. Corruption and theivery has come to be expected, even heralded and strived for in our time as long as you make it big. Don't try stealing ice cream tho, they'll lock you up for that.

spacey (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 5:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

He was actually really lucky to even get a Section 8 Voucher. Almost no one is getting them right now because of the Federal Sequestration. And there are funds available for first months rent and deposits. It's a tragedy. But he had a lot more opportunities than a lot of people out their. He seems angry. And I can understand that. But it could have been worse and is for a lot of people.

LC (anonymous profile)
August 30, 2013 at 9:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't hear the landlord being criticized in this article. What I hear is someone trying their best to make use of the existing system and encountering nothing but dead ends and false advertising. There is too much bureaucracy and hands in the pot. The housing authority has evolved into a beast interested in its own good, not the good of the community it is supposed to serve. I say eliminate the authority and redesign the entire system with checks and balances to be sure that it is fulfilling its mission of making sure that there is adequate housing for ALL of our friends and neighbors. Currently I am paying 74% of my income for rent. This, and the story presented, is outlandish for a community such as ours.

MarkMark (anonymous profile)
August 31, 2013 at 1:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I didn't see anything here that would justify criticism of the landlord. The tenant clearly wanted more from the landlord than he was entitled to however. There's a reason that people want to live in Santa Barbara. The problem is that they want to live in Santa Barbara at Bakersfield and Modesto prices. If you don't like what you're paying to live in Santa Barbara, Bakersfield and Modesto are waiting for you.

Botany (anonymous profile)
August 31, 2013 at 2:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

pay 74% of your income for rent [love SB], or leave it for Bakersfield! Ahh, that Botany is a generous spirit, eh?!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
August 31, 2013 at 3:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As always DD, you are free, and I will join in, to provide free housing to everyone that has a Constitutional Right to live here. Can you then provide the funds so that I can live in a penthouse on the upper East Side of Manhattan?

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
September 1, 2013 at 6:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

hey, Italian, will you help me escape the "horrors" of my Westside life and tiny house?? I do love this Westside, of course.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
September 1, 2013 at 12:26 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DD, That 3000 sq. ft. McMansion is waiting for you in Bakersfield for the same price as your Westside cottage.

Botany (anonymous profile)
September 1, 2013 at 1:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Gosh, thank for that important real estate info, Botany, but much better deals exist in Somis or Cayucos... don't have to that far into the inferno for my McHorror.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
September 1, 2013 at 3:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

First provide, at your own expense, free housing for these poor tortured souls with an inalienable right to live in SB.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
September 2, 2013 at 6:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)


I believe that you are allowing your personal feelings (prejudice) to cloud your comprehension--you are attacking the author of the letter, and essentially defending the landlord where you do not need to do so.

"Now your landlord returns excess rent, your deposit and pays you a relocation fee and you still think you've been swindled."

"After the fire, the tenant realized his belongings would not be replaced, and was upset that the landlord would not replace the belongings or provide additional assistance, so he hired a lawyer".

"The landlord should return the deposit and the prorated rent that was prepaid, but the $1000 for assistance was just an extorted payoff to get the guy's lawyer out of his hair. The landlord had no obligation to pay that money. There is a sense of entitlement from this tenant that can't be denied."

"The tenant clearly wanted more from the landlord than he was entitled to however."

I don't read any ill will towards the landlord in the letter. In fact, I think that disclosure of the landlord's action in returning the rent, deposit, and adding $1000 "clearly" placed the landlord in a good light.

If you re-read the parts pertaining to the letter more objectively, you might find that the parts relating to responsibilities of the renter and the landlord were simply stated as fact. Any overtone of frustration in the letter appears directed at the lack of any true "emergency housing services", locally, which has already been addressed by previous posts to this one.

equus_posteriori (anonymous profile)
September 6, 2013 at 2:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"My landlord was now telling me that my mother and I had to vacate the premises. I had to consult with an attorney to understand my legal rights, and I learned that a landlord is not responsible for the loss of a tenant’s personal items. "

A clear disappointment to the tenant

"Once my landlord heard that I had consulted an attorney, he cut a $1,000 check for assistance, returned our $1,118 deposit, and returned our $62 prorated rent."

The landlord decided to pay the $1000 rather than fight, despite the landlord's own sizable loss.

Although I sympathize with the tenant's plight, the landlord is left with a huge problem himself without having to deal with the tenant's attorney.

Botany (anonymous profile)
September 6, 2013 at 2:45 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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