A big reason for the anemic enrollment is that families must meet a slew of strict federal guidelines for the program, officials said. Prospective clients must show that their inability to pay rent was a direct effect of the economic recession, said case manager Phil McCollum.
"We really go into detail to see they have exhausted their resources, and this is something where it really is due to the economy," he said.
A prime example would be someone who was laid off or has seen reduced wages or hours at work because of company downsizing, he said. The program can then help them make their rent and utility payments while they search for new jobs.
Families also must show the ability to quickly get back on their feet and agree to contribute 30% of their income to rent and 30% to a savings account, he said.
Because of the tight guidelines, the majority of the 800 people who expressed interest in the program did not qualify, officials said.
"We get a lot of calls from people who are not eligible, who are not having difficulty paying rent because of the economy, but for other reasons," said Jess Duran, assistant director of the Community Services and Parks Department.
The city also contracted with homeless services provider PATH Achieve Glendale to provide rental assistance to families that had recently become homeless because of the recession. Under the program, five families can receive rental subsidies of up to $1,000 per month for 15 months.
Program manager Nancy Freidson said she initially struggled to find qualifying families, but on Wednesday she said four had enrolled in the program, with a fifth in the pipeline.
"It took a lot of patience," she said. "It was very unusual for me to find someone who met all of the qualifications."
Under federal guidelines, 60% of the funds must be used by Oct. 1, 2011, and all of the funds must be used by Oct. 1, 2012, in order to keep from having to give the money back, officials said.
Despite the slower start, homeless services coordinator Ivet Samvelyan said the city would likely be on track to meet the minimum spending requirements by next year.
Officials also noted early success stories, with at least 10 families having already graduated from the program.
"Some of them had all their bags packed when they applied to us and realized afterward they could unpack," McCollum said. "It's very rewarding."