A Moral Dilemma for Our Community

Last September our City Council voted to phase out the City’s Rental Assistance Program that has helped four long time Del Mar residents for many years. These four tenants pay the affordable rental rates as established by county guidelines, and the city subsidizes the balance.  To their credit the council, realizing the momentous effect losing this subsidy and probably their homes would have on these folks, directed staff to find a “qualified source to assist in facilitating a smooth transition for these participants to phase out of the program, and to report back to the City Council with a status update in June 2022.”


June is now around the corner and although the County Office of Homeless Solutions appointed a Housing Specialist who conducted extensive interviews with each program recipient, she has not found a single alternative housing situation. This is not surprising considering the lack of affordable housing throughout San Diego and our state, and the added fact that the four program participants are all reported to have special needs of one kind or another.


My neighbor, whom I wrote about last October when this phase out was first discussed by the council, is severely handicapped. He sustained a catastrophic brain injury in an automobile accident many years ago that left him with permanent damage to his balance, hearing, and speech. He cannot drive and requires a walker to move around. He has succeeded in living independently in spite of his disability due to his sheer determination and his independent nature. Transportation to his doctors, shopping, and other support services he takes advantage of from Del Mar Community Connections (DMCC), his proximity to the bus stop at the bottom of 9th Street, nearby restaurants, and a number of neighbors and friends willing to lend a hand if need be, and of course his rental subsidy, are what make this community his ideal home.


It is possible the participants may get a temporary reprieve as City Manager Ashley Jones plans to recommend that the council extend the rental subsidy program through the end of the year.  However, that is not a solution.


These folks have relied on this rental subsidy for many years. They need to stay where they are and continue living in our community as they undoubtedly believed they would be able to, until they chose to move of their own accord.  If the council determines subsidizing rents is not good for Del Mar they could allow this program to expire through natural attrition as the existing participants leave of their own volition.


I know my neighbor believed he would be able to live here until he chose to move or passed away. He certainly never thought he might be facing homelessness.


To upend the lives of these four neighbors in this way is unconscionable and frankly I doubt it’s necessary. Our city regularly budgets funds for downtown businesses and other entities.  Are we really willing to force these members of our community out of Del Mar? Where are our priorities? Is this how we want our city council to govern?


Some neighbors are reaching out to attorneys to determine if there might be an appropriate legal strategy, perhaps a concept called “promissory/equitable estoppel” which is raised when a promise is made that a person relies on.  In setting up an ongoing rental subsidy program as Del Mar did many years ago, it was making a commitment to these residents which they have relied upon for a long time, and which I believe has created an obligation that we ought and need to fulfill.