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Thousand Oaks Releases Earthquake Funds for Higher-Income Residents : Recovery: Council agrees to free up $501,000 of $2 million earmarked for repairs. Those who earn less will have to wait due to red tape.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trying to bypass state red tape, Thousand Oaks City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to free up funding to higher-income residents whose homes were damaged in the Northridge earthquake.

“This will give staff the authority and flexibility they need to get out the money we already have,” said Councilwoman Elois Zeanah.

Olav Hassel, the city’s housing services manager, said $501,000 of the $2 million in federal and state funds designated for residential repairs can be disbursed immediately.

But 41 lower-income families with structural and cosmetic damages to their homes will probably have to wait until mid-February before $1.5 million in so-called federal Home funds are available.

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The city is in an awkward position because 60% of its residents who have requested earthquake aid are in the moderate- to high-income brackets. Only low-income families are qualified to receive any of the federal Home funds, which are set aside as loans and administered by the state.

A family of four with an annual income of $44,000 is considered to be low income. A family of four that has an income of more than $69,000 a year is considered high income.

“I wish we could flip-flop the money,” said Dick Parke, director of housing development and rehabilitation for the county’s Area Housing Authority. “We have enough money, it’s just in the wrong place.”

Six months ago, the city received $501,000 in federal block grants, which is ready to be distributed. An additional $200,000 from the city’s Redevelopment Agency is also available now for repairs.

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Hassel said the city is lobbying the state to loosen some of its restrictions on the Home funds, including asking the state to allow the funds to be given as grants rather than loans. He also hopes the state will agree to make some of the $1.5 million available to higher-income applicants.

But the likelihood of that happening is slim, Hassel said. So he urged council members to do what they can for the 61 higher-income applicants who need to make repairs on their homes.

“We can’t wait around anymore,” Hassel added. “We have to commence with what we’ve got.”

A disadvantage of pressing ahead with dividing the $701,000 in available funds to the higher-income applicants is that many of them will receive less than $30,000. The council agreed last year that $30,000 would be the maximum residents could receive in city-administered federal funds for quake repair.

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Hassel expressed frustration with the disbursement system.

“This is an extremely officious bureaucracy,” he said. “What sticks in my craw is the way the state received this Home money from Congress with many federal restrictions removed because it was a special earthquake allocation. Then the state lumped on all their own regulations anyway.”

He said some residents who are counting on help from the city have gone ahead with repairs, using insurance money and funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But others are still waiting.

“People have been amazingly patient and understanding,” Hassel said.

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