One of the Least Affordable Cities in America Is Spending Nearly $2 Billion to End Homelessness
From tent cities under the Alvarado underpass to Skid Row in Downtown, where thousands of people sleep on sidewalks every night, some 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles are always within sight and yet rarely given a passing glance.
The Los Angeles City Council took notice in a big way on Tuesday when it approved a $1.85 billion plan to enact 62 strategies to reduce homelessness by addressing underlying problems, including a lack of affordable and available housing. The funds are intended to build and lease housing units over the next decade. About $150 million will be released over the next two years for homeless housing services such as rapid rehousing. The plan also proposes establishing designated overnight parking zones for those sleeping in their cars and mobile shower systems in addition to increased mental and health services.
It’s not the first time the city has attempted to solve its homelessness problem by pledging large sums of money not yet at its disposal—Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and council members pledged $100 million toward fighting homelessness in September. That target fund has yet to be reached.
Yet the council is moving forward with the plan laid out in a 233-page report, touting it as a more straightforward, impact-oriented approach.
“In the past, our only resource was to send law enforcement, but that should not be the approach to deal with homelessness,” council member José Huizar said during the meeting.
Homeless providers and city officials at Tuesday’s meeting all agreed that low-cost housing was overdue.
“Los Angeles is the least affordable metro city in the country,” Geoff Thompson, one of the plan’s main authors and a fellow at the L.A. Office of the City Administrative Officer, told TakePart. “I think it’s a historic period for the county to realize that we need to build more housing inside the existing city footprint.”
Rents have been climbing in Los Angeles for years. Real estate firm Marcus & Millichap reported that an average rental goes for about $1,800 per month. The cost of citywide rentals rose by 7.8 percent in 2015 alone. Housing costs go beyond renters to affect families seeking to buy property. In 2015, the price of a single-family home rose 5.2 percent over the previous year, while median income saw a jump of only 2.9 percent.
“A landlord can find the best possible tenant, and those with lower incomes don’t have an option. If they need to move suddenly or there’s a domestic violence issue, there’s simply not a housing supply available,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the plan calls for providing 18,000 units of housing—whether that means constructing new units or leasing out already existing spaces—to the estimated 18,000 people who go unsheltered in the city. That’s not including neighboring districts. However, this number could rise within the next couple months, when an annual census is conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an independent agency created by city and county officials, according to Thompson.
In addition to building housing, the plan aims to use case managers to act as liaisons between landlords and the homeless.
Ted Landreth, director of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, is one of the homeless providers implementing this strategy within his volunteer-run organization.
“We have a squad of about 450 people who will go one-on-one with a homeless person to make sure they have housing,” Landreth told TakePart. “The hard part is convincing a landlord to take someone without credit.”
Landreth’s organization provides hot meals and mobile medical-clinic services to nearly 150 homeless people every night in Hollywood. But now even he is at the mercy of real estate developers, considering the area where his team aids the homeless is ground zero for a new building project.
With the adoption phase now approved, the city council is going to have to find ways to fund the implementation. The next step is determining the budget, sometime in April and May, but how the council plans to get billions in funding remains indefinite at this time.
Despite this, lawmakers and advocates alike are convinced they will see the plan to its fruition.
“Los Angeles was making a fool of itself—people must have thought it hadn’t matured as a major American city,” said Landreth. “If this fails because politics arise, I’ll be amazed.”