Editor’s Note – The annual Budget Discussions for 2019-2020 Fiscal Year took place on Monday and Tuesday, May 21 and 22, 2019. These meetings involve the City Council listening to each city department’s budget presentation and questioning the city staff on specific points. This year’s presentations lasted approximately ten hours over the two days, and covered a total budget of $16,128,053. Culver City Crossroads will be covering the presentations one topic at a time before the June 24, 2019 meeting when the budget will be finalized by the city.
At one of a series of city council budget meetings on Tuesday, May 22, 2019, the Community Development Department presented their proposed budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The presentation included annual requests for measures in place to assist renters in the area, though the noticeable absence of rent control remains.
For one, the RAP (Renters Assistance Program) helps 16 disabled and/or elderly households meet their rent. This year, the proposed budget allocated for RAP is 148,000 dollars, down about two and a half percent from the 2018-19 fiscal year. The city also funds a Mortgage Assistance Program, where residents can apply for help making a payment on their home.
Serving a larger population, the federally mandated Section 8 program helps over 200 households make rent. In the budget plan, Section 8 uses a proposed one and a half million dollars, approximately – a decrease from last year. Obviously reaching a much wider population, this program is also in high demand, turning away many applicants.
It should also be noted that there is a difference between an area where the lower-income population can afford rent versus an area where a portion of the lower-income population has to fill out an application to possibly qualify and be accepted to receive moderated prices. In the latter situation, the majority of residencies can only be occupied by wealthier tenants. This changes the entire culture of the area in addition to displacing those who can no longer afford to live there.
While useful, the various programs funded to keep a handle on the issue of increasing rent appear to be a prolonged game of whack-a-mole, repeatedly allocating funds to help compensate for expensive rent. During the meeting, Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells identified a question that ultimately gets down to the essence of the dilemma: does Culver City want to play landlord or help tenants meet existing market prices? In other words, should the city implement rent control or simply continue to fund the programs that help renters meet landlords’ prices? During the budget meeting, Mayor Sahli-Wells and Council member Daniel Lee expressed concern around the issue. The Mayor especially advocated in favor of rent control, and multiple council members shared stories of families unable to pay the higher rent demanded by landlords.
The budget presentation of these programs occurred alongside proposals for money channeled into projects like the Ivy Station, a development containing restaurants, retail stores, a hotel and residential units. If these new expansions are successful, like the Platform, they drive up real estate prices and therefore rent. The result is frankly ironic; the city is struggling to handle the repercussions of its choices while simultaneously continuing to make those same choices. Many fronts contribute to the rising rent that is currently driving people out of Culver City. The result is a space that can only be filled by a majority wealthier population, ultimately homogenizing the city. As Culver City maintains that diversity is important, it needs to consider how it will commit to policy measures that will support it.