As a landlord in a controversial low-income federal housing program, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury receives $639 per month of taxpayer money to rent a house to his 77-year-old mother on his Ojai ranch property.
Bradbury's mother, Marie, receives rent subsidies through the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 8 housing voucher program, designed to provide affordable housing to those who would otherwise be unable to secure decent accommodations.
However, the nationwide program in which Marie Bradbury participates is now under attack in Washington, and reforms due to take effect in September zero in on those landlords who rent to family members on government assistance.
Bradbury's mother has lived since July 1995 in a manufactured house on her son's four-acre Hang 'Em High ranch, assessed last year at $558,000. The dwelling sits next to Bradbury's five-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot main house.
The district attorney said he sees no personal conflict in taking the rent subsidy because his mother has been receiving it for more than 20 years, long before she began renting from him in 1995. He said it allows her to feel like she contributes to the family and is not being a burden on them.
"That's a major consideration for this woman because she has a great deal of pride and has worked hard all of her life," Bradbury said.
"This money is not important to us," added Bradbury, who earns an annual salary of $131,804. "It's important to my mother. If the money is not there tomorrow, that wouldn't cause us any concern because we would continue to keep my mother here."
But Bradbury's participation in the federal housing subsidy program drew mixed reactions last week from housing officials and taxpayer advocates in Ventura County, as well as from the county's two local congressmen.
In all, there are about 5,400 tenants in Ventura County who receive Section 8 rent subsidies, and about 6,900 more are on waiting lists that are three to five years long. So many poor people are waiting for help, in fact, that the county's Area Housing Authority was forced to close its waiting list last August. And officials don't see it reopening for another three years.
"I don't think that family members making that kind of money should make use of public funds to assist family members," said Sal Gonzalez, executive director of the Oxnard Housing Authority, which administers Section 8 funds. "We have such a tremendous housing need that the money needs to go to those who can least afford housing."
Gonzalez noted that he takes care of his 87-year-old mother-in-law, whose only income is her Social Security benefits and her savings, without any government help.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) said he doesn't know a lot about HUD's housing subsidy program, but he defended Marie Bradbury's right to receive rental help and said her son's income should not be an issue.
"I don't know what Mike Bradbury's balance sheet looks like, and quite frankly I don't care," he said. "I have great respect for this man's ethics. . . . I don't know if it's my role or anybody's role to question what he should do to support his mother."
Gallegly said Marie Bradbury worked hard all her life and had earned her place in the federal Section 8 housing program. He said he believes the district attorney could make substantially more money by renting the extra house on his property to someone else.
"Here's a case where an individual is subsidizing his mother," Gallegly said. "If he didn't care about her, he could rent the house out for several hundred dollars more than he is getting."
But according to HUD records, Bradbury previously rented the same dwelling to another tenant for $600. That is $250 less than listed on the current federal housing contract for his mother. The "last tenant made up the difference in rent by helping with ranch animals (feeding, cleaning, training, doctoring)," according to documents filed to support Marie Bradbury's housing application.
To qualify for the rental subsidy, Marie Bradbury cannot live under the same roof with her son, his wife and their 1-year-old son.
The rental subsidy program works like this: Low-income tenants rent dwellings from participating landlords, paying no more than 30% of their income for housing. The government pays the rest of the rent.
Marie Bradbury's HUD payment contract states that her current monthly rent is $850. Under her contract agreement, she is supposed to pay her son landlord $211 toward the monthly rent, while HUD picks up the remaining $639.
But Bradbury said his mother does not pay the tenant portion of the rent.
Doug Tapking, executive director of the Ventura County Area Housing Authority, declined to discuss Bradbury's case, citing privacy laws. But he said there is nothing in the regulations that specifically deals with landlords being required to collect the tenant portion of the rent.