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Homeless Measure HHH Turns Out to be a Giant Bait and Switch … Homeless and Voters Conned

EASTSIDER-Long before there was a Measure HHH, there was a lot of discussion at LANCC and other community meetings about what kind of shelter we could provide to our homeless population -- something to tide them over until supportive services could kick in and find longer term solutions for their complex issues. 

At the time, here was a lot of talk about sub-$30,000 “tiny homes.” Of course, almost all discussion about this concept disappeared the day after Measure HHH -- the $1.2 billion bond measure -- passed last year. 

We’ll get back to what went wrong with Measure HHH later, but for now let’s take a look at serious, inexpensive housing. Notice I did not say “affordable.” There are at least three, and probably many more, actual examples of these tiny inexpensive, quickly built and installed homes. 

From right around here in Los Angeles, a group of USC students came up with a $25,000 stackable housing pod of about 92 sq. ft. They are big enough to provide a bed, bathroom, desk and storage, and to give shelter from the elements. You can read more about the project here

From San Francisco, an outfit called Panoramic Interests, has come up with a business model involving larger, 160 sq. ft. “micro-apartments.” These modular housing units are also stackable, like the USC project. Currently built and shipped from China, they are designed to be leased for about $1000/year per unit. This is a whole lot cheaper than most alternatives, and there is some talk of building the units locally. For more, about their vision, look here.  

These are only two examples of numerous kinds of groovy ideas for this type of inexpensive shelters, as you can see from this article on a popular travel blog. 

So Why is the City Unable to Perform? 

All pretty words aside, the truth is there’s no money to be made (or spent) when it comes to cheap housing. No sir. Money comes from controlling what and where something is going to be built; and to pad the profit, it should be “affordable housing,” not just a place to provide shelter from the elements for the homeless. 

So one of the first things the Council did when they got the bond money was to take Controller Ron Galperin’s database of about 9000 city owned properties and trim it down into twelve parcels. 

As I wrote in an earlier CityWatch article, as soon as the bond passed, City Hall did a bait and switch to now provide “affordable housing:” 

“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.” 

Even worse, as fellow CityWatch columnists Eric & Joshua Preven noted, the first meeting of the 7 member Citizens Oversight Committee (all appointed by the Mayor), was in fact a secret meeting which had a “technical glitch” and the audio recording of the meeting didn’t work. Great start to the openness and transparency promised when they begged for $1.2 billion in bonds.

In their follow-up article, they showed that the City has no intention of telling us what they are going to do with the money. 

Then we had a devastating piece by Patrick Range McDonald, showing how the Mayor and Council made nice until they were able to defeat Measure S. Then came the real deal that they had hidden: 

The City Administrative Officer recommended, and the City Council approved, an AHOS program that now offered ‘affordable multifamily housing,’ ‘mixed-income housing,’ ‘affordable homeownership,’ ‘innovative methods of housing,’ and, finally, “permanent supportive housing” for the homeless.”  

And on May Day (May 1), the Prevens gave us a column with the heading Red Flag Warning, a nice summary of the bait and switch. The answer to the question of how many actual new units of housing for the homeless have been built is around zero. With some 9 projects in the pipeline (mostly refurbishments) for some $10 million.

Finally, in a pathetic attempt to redirect our limited attention, the City Council proudly urged that the City declare a year-round shelter crisis. The motion was made by none other than Jose Huizar (CD 14), who can’t even get anything done in Boyle Heights, and that master of saying one thing and doing something else, Mike Bonin (CD 11). 

The Takeaway 

Let’s go back to what we were told in the run up to passage of Proposition HHH. The advertised promise was for some 10,000 units of affordable permanent-supportive housing over 10 years, to the tune of $1.2 billion in bonds. 

What we’ve got is a new bureaucracy called HCID, run by a new general manager (Ray Cervantes), looking for staff and talking about $75 million in bonds to fund something like 440 units of supporting housing, with a total of 615 units. Maybe. And with no timeline. 

HCID, for the acronym challenged, stands for “Housing & Community Investment Department.” That very description should make us shudder, as we add another bureaucracy to the City that can’t balance a budget. On the other hand, they have a really spiffy website.  

This is a far cry from the promised 10,000 units of housing for the homeless and support services, and the Prevens indicate that the real number to date is around zero. If the City took a look at the pod/tiny houses mentioned at the beginning of this article, the process now would be very different. For about $30 million ($30,000 per unit) you could build 1000 units of homeless housing. And under the USC model, it could all be built here, providing jobs for local folks. 

Furthermore, at the moment the City is only looking at nine projects, using their tortured system, and there has been huge community pushback on many of their proposed sites. If you broadened the parameters and looked at all the 9000 parcels identified by Controller Galperin, I refuse to believe that the City couldn’t find places to put these mini-homes. 

Not only that, just look at the amount of money the City has blown in court battles over the police department seizing homeless people’s belongings and the costs of storing their stuff. I’m guessing millions, as referenced in a recent Curbed Los Angeles piece. With the pods, storage is already there. 

All I can say is, thank god for CityWatch and its intrepid band of investigative columnists! 

And the next time City Hall wants us to pay for a special purpose tax, listen to Jack Humphreville. Vote NO.

 

(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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw