City Councilmember John Heilman is asking that West Hollywood consider stepping up its efforts to help poor residents.
Heilman is putting a proposal before the City Council on Monday that would direct City Hall staff to:
— Evaluate the city’s existing emergency rental assistance programs aimed at preventing eviction and return to City Council with recommendations for increasing the amount of money available if needed to meet the community’s needs.
— Present options for making the city’s bus pass program free for low-income residents. The city currently subsidizes Metro bus passes for eligible residents who are aged 62 and over or disabled. “Because the monthly cost of a bus pass is subsidized by the city, the cost to the participants is $8 for 30 days’ worth of fare or $96 annually for eligible residents. This is a $12 discount for the Senior and Disabled monthly pass, which is normally $20,” the memo states.
— Present options for enhancing the city’s nutrition programs for low-income residents, including senior meal sites and school lunch programs in the analysis. The city now provides meals to seniors at five separate locations. The city’s home-delivered meal programs provide meals for an average of 142 people a month. Some clients also receive supplemental nutrition and bags of groceries along with the meals.
— Evaluate the city’s existing job placement and training programs and return with recommendations on enhancing those programs for low-income residents who are capable of working.
— Present options for further reducing the cost of pre-school for low-income residents. The city currently subsidizes pre-school or kindergarten expenses for 18 low-income residents. “Nine of those residents’ tuition is 100 percent subsidized, another nine pay an average of $202 per month,” the memo states.
— Present recommendations for establishing higher education savings accounts for low- and moderate-income residents with children. The memo notes that “Some cities have created a form of a trust account with the city depositing the first amount to encourage parents to open an account for their child’s education.”
— Research methods to reduce the cost of laundry in the city’s affordable housing buildings.
— Survey a segment of our low-income residents to determine whether they are unbanked or underbanked or whether they are paying high fees for banking or check-cashing services.
— Continue to expand the community outreach regarding available resources and programs to ensure eligible residents are aware of and receiving services.
“The poverty reduction program (is) aimed to complement the services already offered by the city to provide participants with a comprehensive evaluation of their needs, connect them to available services, and determine long-term solutions for poverty reduction in West Hollywood. This item provides further direction to staff to help address poverty in our community.”
In an interview with WEHOville today, Heilman said that poverty is an issue that all of the City Council members are concerned about, with a particular concern about low-income residents living in rent-stabilized apartments who can be evicted if their landlords decide to take the apartment building off the rental market. The city currently gives such tenants priority in getting access to affordable housing units that it requires developers of new projects to build. Heilman noted that in the early days of cityhood, West Hollywood offered partial subsidies for various services. “Maybe because of our current financial situation, it makes sense to offer more support,” he said.
In a speech on May 15 when Heilman was inaugurated as the city’s then-mayor, he explained his focus on alleviating the impact of poverty on local residents.
“We’re a very affluent community,” he said. “We’re fortunate that we have thriving businesses and most of our residents are doing reasonably well. But about 15% of our population lives below the poverty line. That’s about 5,400 people in the city of West Hollywood. Many of them seniors, a significant number of them immigrants.
“We need to look at how we can ease the burden of poverty and, if possible, bring people out of poverty by looking at innovative programs. So, what I want us to do is target a small group of individuals and see what actually works, what assistance the city can provide that will assist those who are living on the edge in West Hollywood.”
The City Council will consider Heilman’s proposal at its meeting on Monday, which takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Parking is free in the five-story structure behind the Chambers with a ticket validated in the lobby.