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Menlo Park council hopes to partner with nonprofit on tenant fund

 

Given limited staff availability and a lack of expertise, the Menlo Park City Council agreed on Tuesday (March 12) to explore whether the nonprofit Samaritan House would consider administering the city's planned $100,000 fund for renters in the city who are forced to relocate and are facing homelessness.

The San Mateo-based Samaritan House operates throughout the county to support anti-homelessness and broader anti-poverty efforts.

The council discussed many of the details about how the fund should be administered and who would be eligible for financial support before ultimately agreeing to contact representatives from the nonprofit. Samaritan House has an East Palo Alto location, on Bay Road, which is one of eight places in San Mateo County where people experiencing or facing homelessness can find shelter and other support, such as health care and food.

Funding allocations would be restricted to paying for the costs of moving and finding a new place to live. The city hopes to use data collected from administering the fund to determine the scale of the renter-displacement problem.

Mayor Ray Mueller said he's not interested in creating additional burdens for staff, or in initiating a new city program. "That's not the business we're in," he said.

Councilwoman Catherine Carlton also expressed concerns about running the program from City Hall and what administrative costs the city might take on. Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor expressed some reservations about the data collection being done by an outside agency, but went along with the idea.

Councilman Drew Combs favored keeping the program in the city, but became more open to the idea when Rhonda Coffman, the city's new deputy community development director on housing, talked about how nonprofits are well used to complying with requests for data, metrics, and disbursing funds according to specific parameters.

Coffman said she had worked with Samaritan House in her previous job in Redwood City, and said the agency has the expertise to administer the city's fund.

The council considered what income threshold should be set for eligibility to receive financial support. A draft of the ordinance laid out a range of 50 to 60 percent of the area median income, but members of the public suggested that it be raised to 80 percent of that income. The council agreed to not to make a specific recommendation on this but to work it out with Samaritan House, should the nonprofit accept the job. In addition, the council agreed to collect data on who receives these funds over the next year, asking recipients to complete a small form.

Tenant assistance ordinance

While council members eventually agreed on the idea to have Samaritan House administer the fund, they retained their prior split during a second reading and final approval of the city's tenant relocation ordinance, voting 3-2, with Cecilia Taylor and Betsy Nash opposed.

Several people raised concerns about potential loopholes in the Redwood City-based version of the tenant relocation ordinance the council approved.

In one situation in Redwood City, Housing Commissioner Karen Grove noted, a landlord of one apartment building who plans to refurbish the units has raised rent in the building by about 140 percent, forcing people out. Had they been able to pay for the rent increase prior to the construction work, the landlord would have had to pay the renters the relocation fees, she said.

"The Redwood City situation does vex me," Mueller said. "Let's keep an eye on what's happening there."

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