Vets to front of housing queue?

CITY HALL — A proposal this week to put military veterans at the front of long waiting list for affordable housing was met with staunch opposition from Mayor Ara Najarian, who said it could create a major backlash from the thousands of people already in line.

The City Council in coming months will consider reopening the waiting list for federal rental vouchers to include military veterans, after directing housing officials to draft the proposal.

The city's list of 6,479 households for the federally sponsored program, which uses vouchers to subsidize rent payments, was last opened in 2001, at which time veterans were given preference. Under the proposal, the waiting list would be re-opened exclusively for veterans.

"They are deserving of housing and any way we can provide it to them if they want to live in this community," said Councilwoman Laura Friedman. "I do think they should go to the head of the line."

But Najarian said he was firmly opposed to the proposal, which he worried could lead to a community "firestorm."

"There are people on that list, seniors, disabled, with extremely low incomes that have been waiting eight, nine years," he said. "That's all we hear about."

Of the city's 1,573 authorized vouchers, about 50 become available each year, although that has slowed in the past year, officials said.

The debate came as officials from the Community Development and Housing Department presented a range of options to increase affordable housing options for local veterans in response to a request from Councilman Frank Quintero, who also serves as chairman of the Glendale Housing Authority.

Himself a veteran, Quintero said the increased demand on the armed forces in recent years has made it even harder for those leaving military service to return to normalcy.

"You have these continual deployments," he said. "Couple that with the state of the economy, and I think there are real issues for veterans returning to a civilian life."

The majority of the options presented Tuesday focused on enhancing current affordable-housing programs — such as low-interest loans for housing rehabilitation and first-time home buyers — to give preference or increased benefits to qualifying veterans.

Building new affordable housing developments that target veterans was also fielded as a potential solution, as was creating a small pilot program to combine rental assistance with job training and employment programs at the Verdugo Jobs Center.

The Section 8 proposal will return to the City Council for further consideration in the coming weeks, officials said.

"You hear the passion right here on this dais, on both sides of this," said Councilman John Drayman. "So I would absolutely want to hear from the public on this, as a separate item."

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