State Attorney General moves to protect vouchers

Courtesy photo California Attorney General Bob Bonta

California Attorney General Bob Bonta sent a letter to the city of El Cajon demanding it immediately stop sending warning notices to local hotels participating in the county’s bridge housing voucher program on Sept. 23. This follows city staff reporting that seven motels in El Cajon operating as homeless shelters, with between 22% and 100% of occupants using homeless hotel vouchers. Staff reported that one San Diego County contractor, Equus, had placed 158 individuals into El Cajon motels with vouchers over the Sept. 11 weekend.

At the Sept. 27 El Cajon City Council meeting, council unanimously approved council members Michelle Metschel and Phil Ortiz to serve on a subcommittee in drafting regulatory policy for motels with homeless vouchers.

On Sept. 14, El Cajon sent out a press release, stating changes in calls for public safety services around some of the motels primarily being used by the county under its hotel voucher program.

City Manager Graham Mitchell said in 2020 164 homeless individuals were using emergency services, and in 2022, 683 were utilizing emergency services, such as the county’s hotel voucher program. These numbers came from the Regional Task Force for the Homeless Point-in-Time Count.

Mitchell said over a three-day period, more than 40 arrests were made in and around motels, and 23 of those were connected to the voucher program. Out of 18 motels in the county that utilize hotel vouchers, eight of them are in El Cajon. On Sept. 15, staff sent seven motel operators notices of violation, and that they needed to reduce the number of vouchers to 15% of their total motel rooms.

Mayor Bill Wells said the concern is not the voucher program, but what the city wants equity, as the city carries 45% of the voucher program.

“Our job is not to fix the regional homeless problem,” he said. “Our job is to protect the citizens of El Cajon.”

Bonta’s letter alleges the City’s action constitute clear violations of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which forbids housing discrimination based on income sources, as well as other protected characteristics.

The state Attorney General demanded the following immediate actions by the city of El Cajon.
• Rescind the warning notices sent to participating hotels
• Agree to refrain from issuing such notices in the future
• Publicly state that hotels will not be subjected to punishment from the City if they accept such vouchers; and
• Order its law enforcement officers to immediately cease any unlawful harassment of hotel guests at participating hotels.

Bonta said millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their head, and there are too many across the state who lack housing all together.

“The City of El Cajon’s recent actions threaten to turn some of San Diego County’s most vulnerable residents out onto the street based solely on their source of income – vouchers provided by the County to cover the cost of temporary housing at local hotels. Let me be clear: Housing discrimination in any form will not be tolerated. The City of El Cajon’s threats to local hotels are a clear violation of the law, and the City must immediately reverse course or face legal consequences,” Bonta said in a press release.