Mayor Beck: ‘Our priorities are out of whack.’
By Malak Habbak
Arcadia City Council approved Community Development Block Grant program funds for the 2017 – 2018 fiscal year for home improvements and repairs to low and moderate-income residents.
Initially, Mayor Tom Beck questioned the resolution’s allocation of funds detailed in the staff report, wondering why about $230,000 would be spent on 12 income-qualified homeowners while less than a tenth of that number would be spent on somewhere from 15 to 25 permanent homeless persons in the city.
“It seems our priorities are out of whack,” said Beck, who suggested more resources should be given to CDBG’s Homeless Initiatives Programs.
“If homelessness in Arcadia was a transient problem [it is] one thing,” said Beck, “but if we have permanent homeless and we know who they are and we know where they live on the streets shouldn’t we be doing more than $20,000 when we’re doing so much for home improvements for our residents?” he asked the council.
“Your main point is spot on that it is a policy question for this council,” said City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto. Lazzaretto also clarified that funds for the homeless programs would not be going towards police services as Beck would like, but to the county’s Community Development Commission, which would assign funds as they see fit.
“We don’t know where those monies will go or to what agencies or providers or if any of it will come back to the city of Arcadia directly,” said Councilmember Sho Tay.
Beck suggested giving the homelessness funds to Foothill Unity Center, Inc., the Monrovia-based, community action agency providing help to low income families and the homeless in the region. Tay dismissed the idea, as the center does not participate in the federal CDBG funds as a private entity.
Among those participating in public comments was former mayor Gail Marshall who voiced concerns about “giving cash” to the homeless.
“I think more of it should go to food and medical type stuff and not just pay them to be homeless,” said Marshall who warned councilmembers such incentives would produce “a large crop of homeless” in the city.
Beck later added it “never crossed [his] mind” that the city would have to pay them but rather “to help them with the things they need.”
Simon, 15, also spoke during public comments expressing that the city “should allot more money to the homeless, but not a significant increase” so that homeowners “don’t feel as if they are not being cared for.”
A majority of opinion expressed by the council, including eventually by Beck, was that due to demand for the low to moderate-income housing program they should continue the program.
“We know what to expect from it, we know how to control those dollars,” added Lazzaretto who recommended council may revisit the issue in the future, to double or triple the amount allocated to homelessness, but in the meantime to “see what this is about” before being “willing to put more eggs in the homelessness basket.”
“I’m willing to follow staff’s recommendation now but I would ask staff to think about what we’re doing,” Beck replied. “We need to start thinking about what do we do about it because it’s our responsibility as a city council to take care of the people that live in Arcadia and some of the people that live here don’t have a home.”
Police Chief Robert T. Guthrie confirmed that the city has a fixed homeless population, not unlike surrounding cities, and is “much different than what we used to experience years ago.”
Councilmember April Verlato noted that CDBG funds are specifically allocated and are primarily meant for housing.
The grant amounting to $300,563 for the 2017 – 2018 fiscal year is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with an objective “to develop viable communities by providing decent housing, a suitable living environment, and opportunities to expand economic opportunities, principally for low and moderate-income persons,” according to the department website.
“It’s a program that prevents homelessness,” said Verlato, referring to the largest of the city’s CDBG programs.
“It’s not about painting up a house,” she said, “but about families who are going to lose their homes.” Under the Home Improvement Program, grants of up to $15,000 will be provided to individual homeowners for needed home improvements and repairs, including roofing, painting, electrical and plumbing upgrades, modifications for property owners with special needs, and energy-efficiency improvements.
“I know many good folks that don’t have money to replace a roof,” said Councilmember Roger Chandler, citing some residents are retired and living off social security.
A recent profile on Arcadia shows the median age in Arcadia is considerably “old” for the San Gabriel Valley and county; the percentage of residents 65 and older are among the county’s highest. Yet data also shows Arcadians’ household incomes are considered high for the county.
Since 1974, Arcadia by means of the Home Improvement Program has provided assistance to more than 250 homeowners. This year, the city will see a slight drop from 13 to 12 homeowners receiving assistance compared to last year.
According to a 2003 HUD report, CDBG is an important resource for local governments not only in their efforts to provide both transitional and permanent housing, but also to “supportive services” for families and individuals experiencing homelessness.
This year would be the first the city would use funds for the Homeless Initiatives Programs. The new programs are designed to address the needs of the county’s homeless population in the upcoming fiscal year and include the Rapid Re-Housing Match and the Shelter Partnership.
Cities participating in the Rapid Re-Housing Match will direct funds to service providers in the service program area of the city by the Department of Health Services or the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The Shelter Partnership, an agency offering goods to over 240 shelters throughout Los Angeles County, will also provide to nearby facilities.
The budget also allocates a sector for public service projects that cannot exceed 15 percent of the total annual CDBG budget. Such projects include congregate meals and informational and referral services for seniors.
This year, the nutrition program for seniors is anticipated to serve 20,000 mid-day hot meals on weekdays at the Community Center during the next fiscal year. The recommended funding, about $24,600, is a slight increase from last year due to an increase in participation over the years.
The Public Service Project also includes assistance with government benefits, housing assistance, transportation, legal assistance, in-home services, health services and educational opportunities. With a proposed budget amount of about $20,400, about $3,000 less than last year, the current level of service is estimated to serve 900 clients.