LA’s ‘Comprehensive Homeless Strategy’ - Off to a Not So Groovy Start

LOS ANGELES

EASTSIDER-Is homelessness a real problem in LA? You betchy. Should we do something about it? Of course. Can the LA City Council handle the problem? So far, indications aren’t good. 

In the run up to passing a $1.2 billion dollar bond measure on November 8, the LA City Council was all over the problem of homelessness. I mean, we had committees, plans, pontification and platitudes galore. Political fodder of the highest order, but what was underneath the rhetoric? 

Speaking as a recovering bureaucrat, I have noticed that public agencies handle their documents in two very different ways. When they are serious and want to do something odious, the documents are usually a black and white memo, full of technical jargon and indecipherable gobbledygook. On the other hand, when they want to sell snow in the wintertime to the public, it’s an entirely different deal. In this case, they write huge full color documents, with pretty color charts and graphs and tons of headings and subheadings which prove that they know what they are doing and so you should trust them. The City’s Comprehensive Homeless Strategy is a shining example, and you can find it here.  

Be forewarned, it will take a while to even load the document in your browser, since it is a 300 page piece of dazzling you know what. The glitz starts on page 7 and goes on and on. I found a particularly pretty color flow chart on page 18 that shows all the public and private agencies that work together on this knotty problem. 

For a shorter and even flashier version, check out the Mayor’s summary version of how the Mayor is single handedly transforming LA into the vanguard of homelessness solutions. 

If you look at the fine print, the City of Los Angeles has already pledged allocating $100 million in the budget towards the problem, which they recognized was a drop in the bucket. The Committee working on this was led by no other than Jose Huizar, whose PLUM Committee has created plenty of homelessness by blessing every developer’s dream over the last few years. 

First Reports. 

A key part of the City’s Plan has been to use City owned property to provide quick housing. Indeed, City Controller Ron Galperin has developed a very cool database to map the approximately 9000 city properties which may be underutilized. For a good read on how this came to happen and how it works, check out this article at The Planning Report

After all this, the first public report on the homeless strategy progress was released by the Homeless Strategy Committee on November 7. It’s a good example of a “serious” memo, black and white, full of technical jargon. 

The reason for the report’s awkward language is pretty clear -- the core first steps relating to “crisis response” efforts aren’t going that well. As the LA Times  put it, “Proposals for storage lockers and toilets for street dwellers are stalled, new shelter capacity is being added at a trickle, and the city bureaucracy moving more slowly than some council members expected.” 

Buried in the report is the fact that it was community opposition that derailed storage facilities in Venice and San Pedro, and CD 9’s La Opinion site turned out to be no good “due to the rehabilitation cost.” 

Also, the 9th District Court of Appeals torpedoed the Council’s hot flash vision of a Citywide Safe Parking Program. So back to the drawing board on that one. 

You have to wonder how much use Ron Galperin’s database of city owned properties is going to be in the face of all of this pushback. Using city owned properties was a key element in providing supportive housing for the homeless. 

Speaking of Quick Homeless Housing. 

Part of phase one of the City’s ambitious 300 page Comprehensive Homeless Strategy was to provide quick, permanent supportive homeless housing on some 12 city-owned parcels. A big part of this plan was to establish a list of prequalified developers who could quickly build on those parcels. This list ultimately included 39 developers and recommendations for the disposition of the twelve parcels. 

Well, that didn’t last long. In a mid-November move, the recommendations had suddenly winnowed down to four developers, and the types of housing now magically include “Permanent Supportive Housing, Affordable Multifamily Housing, Mixed-Income Housing, Affordable Homeownership,” and my favorite, “Innovative Methods of Housing.” 

Also, the 12 parcels are now down to 10, with the staff recommendation that the other two parcels be sold off on the grounds that “there are no recommended proposals for these sites.” The money, of course, will go to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. 

So what we are left with in the initial phases of LA City’s master plan for homelessness are 4 developers who are authorized to build affordable housing or anything “innovative.” Great. 

What Can We Expect for Our $1.2 Billion Bond? 

In a heartwarming, if naive expression of faith, over 76% of the voters approved Measure HHH on November 8, authorizing the sale of $1.2 billion in bonds to pay for about 10,000 units of affordable permanent-supportive housing in the next 10 years. It is the major long-term component of the City’s Comprehensive Homeless Strategy. 

Take a look at KPPC’s article on 10 things you need to know about measure HHH  to see what the promises were in hyping the bond measure, as well as the fears. 

If you contrast the bond measure rhetoric with what the City has actually done so far, the disconnect looms like the Grand Canyon. Affordable housing is not permanent-supportive housing; it’s simply another opportunity for real estate developers to make money building more housing. And if the 12 parcels already identified have shrunk to 10 already, where are all of these 10,000 units going to be built? Furthermore, if you believe the cost per unit for this housing, then I invite you to my lottery for the 6th Street Bridge. 

Don’t misunderstand. Homelessness is really important, but so far, the efforts of the Council don’t seem to be remotely on track to provide the 500 units of supportive housing and key “crisis response” that was promised. As the City stated in the Executive Summary of their very own Comprehensive Homeless Strategy document: 

In the short-term, the City must enhance its existing homeless shelter system and transform shelter beds into bridge housing by including homeless case management and integrating supportive health and social services from the County at appropriate levels of caseload via the CES.” 

Since the ability to sell bonds is not a requirement to sell the bonds, I urge all Angelenos to closely monitor the Mayor/City Council machine as they continue to try and implement their grand design. If they can’t get it right on what they have already promised to do without the bond money, maybe they should not sell bonds at all until and unless they get their act together. 

This should be about our surging homeless population, not politics as usual. 

One can dream...

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Photo: Elizabeth Daniels/LA Curbed.

Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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