INGLEWOOD — The City Council unanimously approved increasing funds to two COVID-19-related programs designed to assist residents behind on rent and to purchase basic necessities Sept. 29.
Mayor James T. Butts introduced an initiative to create the two programs in August using funds provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from the U.S. Treasury Department and community development block grant coronavirus housing funds.
The mayor initially proposed a $500 debit card program, utilizing $1 million from the city’s reserves and a rent relief program, from CDBG funds supplemented by the city, to provide funding for payment of two months of back owed rent for certain Inglewood renters.
The city said the city has nearly 20,000 residents who could potentially benefit from the programs and who would be selected based on a lottery.
But community members, including City Treasurer Wanda Brown, pressed the council for more funding saying the initial proposal wasn’t enough.
“The COVID-19 $500 debit card is ridiculous and should be a minimum of $1,500, and the city has the money,” Brown said. “They find it for their friends.”
Other community members echoed that sentiment.
“People are paying $2,000 or more for rent and a $500 debit card is not enough to cover them on back owed rent,” said Billion Godsun, a member of the Africa Town Coalition. “You are looking at mass displacement.”
The mayor then accused residents of “complaining” about the city’s generosity considering they were using city funds, to front load the debit card program until funds are received from the federal government to reimburse the city.
“No one is complaining about the $500 but we know you can give more,” said an unidentified member of the Inglewood Lennox Tenants Union. “Residents are constantly using taxpayer’s money paying for the mayor’s court cases with your private dealings with an ex-girlfriend or behavior towards residents.”
After public outcry, the Housing Department requested additional city funds, in the amount of $275,000, to increase the debit card program benefit amount from $500 to $1,000 per individual. The total expended has increased from $1 million to $1.275 million to cover the 1,275 applicants.
The city was already approved for CDBG coronavirus housing funds in the amount of $827,507 and a second round of funding in the amount of $1,035,671 was awarded to the city Sept. 11. With a total of $1,863,178 available, and a low number of applicants, the housing department recommended that the 275 applicants receive three months of back rent as opposed to the two months originally proposed.
During public comment some shared with the council that many members of the community were unaware of the application process for either program.
“There are a number of people who are saying they did not get the information,” Billion Godsun said. “People whether they didn’t see it on social media pages or if a mailer or flyer went out, they would benefit by having the program extended.”
Mayor Butts then pressed the caller to provide the “names” of the people who they were referencing, and when they declined to do so, Mayor Butts’ response was “thank you, I thought so.”
The city declined to extend the application deadline during the council meeting but a recently published public notice provides direction on how the public can officially request the deadline be extended to assist more families.
The city will accept written comments from Oct. 13 to Oct. 20 on how the funds in the amount of $1,035,671 should be spent. Comments can be mailed to the attention of Damian Pipkins, city of Inglewood, CDBG Division, 1 W. Manchester Blvd., Suite 750, Inglewood, 90301, by fax to (310) 330-5756 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The city has until Dec. 30 to expend all funds received under the CARES Act.
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood area. She can be reached at email@example.com.