NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS - Imagine a single-family home on a quiet street in the San Fernando Valley.
Unlike its neighbors, it is crammed with 20 tenants who share a few bedrooms and an array of makeshift units. They’re noisy and the sheer number of people causes the weekly trash to spill out of the standard garbage bins. Parking is limited because there are more residents on the street than the zoning allows.
The office of 12th District City Councilman Mitch Englander has identified up to 60 such properties in his West Valley territory. Authorities, however, have struggled to shut down the homes because of vague, outdated regulations that give landlords too much wiggle room, Englander said.
Under a proposed set of new, carefully worded regulations set to go before the City Council this week, such shared living environments would be outlawed in low-density zones. Landlords could, however, be allowed to operate boarding houses in any zone through a new permitting process.
On the surface, the Community Care Facilities Ordinance might seem only to impact neighborhoods with quiet leafy streets, driveways and garages and front yards — in other words, not Downtown.
However, a wide array of local stakeholders are banding together to urge the council to defeat the ordinance.
Critics of the proposed regulations say they would put the squeeze on a crucial segment of affordable housing. Doing so, they warn, would send more people to Downtown in pursuit of the area’s abundant social services, further concentrating homelessness in the Central City.
Englander argues that the law has protections that would preserve group homes for the disabled, and actually increases housing options by providing the new boarding house permitting process.
Fourteenth District Councilman José Huizar, who has struggled with illegal boarding homes in parts of his district such as Eagle Rock, said the ordinance’s potential impact on Downtown represents an unintended consequence.
“It goes against what all the homelessness experts and advocates are saying, that we need a comprehensive and decentralized approach to the problem,” Huizar said.
Huizar, whose district now includes all of Skid Row, and Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry are among an unusually broad group of Downtown stakeholders opposing the ordinance. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which is behind a major push to build more permanent supportive housing in the city, is against it. So is the business-minded Central City Association.
Under the new law, it would be illegal for four or more people who are unrelated to rent a house together in a low-density zone (a family of that size could still rent a house). So the owner of, say, an Exposition Park-area house could not rent it to four college students. Three would be OK.
The four-person restriction presents difficulties for an array of individuals, from students to those on the brink of homelessness, who must team up to make rent affordable, said Alisa Orduña, a program officer at the United Way of Greater L.A. Securing an apartment on their own is often out of the question, she said.
“It’s almost like we’re punishing them for finding creative solutions for themselves for housing,” Orduña said.
One aspect of the law that has perplexed critics is that it targets a problem that is technically already illegal. Boarding homes are currently outlawed in low-density zones, and many of the nuisances affiliated with overcrowded housing can be addressed under existing laws, said Molly Rysman, director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing Los Angeles.
“The houses people have issues with, boarding houses, they’re illegal today,” Rysman said. “It’s not that there aren’t laws on the books. It’s that the city has had trouble enforcing them.”
Englander, however, says that current codes, which date back decades, make enforcement difficult.
He said several previous attempts to crack down on unlicensed facilities were thrown out of court.
The new law, he said, requires operators of boarding homes to get the appropriate state license or to secure a permit from the city.
“If you’re not doing something protected under [the federal] Fair Housing [Act], then you’re operating a business and you’re operating a boarding home,” Englander said. “You have those conditions and you have to get a permit. Then we have something to revoke to ensure that you’re taking care of people who live there and the neighborhood.”
The council was slated to consider the ordinance on Tuesday, Jan. 15. If approved, there would be a mandatory review in a year. It also has what’s known as a severability clause, so that if one portion of the law is challenged and defeated in court, the rest of the ordinance would remain intact.
(Ryan Vaillancourt writes at Downtown News, where this piece was first posted. DowntownNews.com for everything in and about Downtown LA.)
Vol 11 Issue 6
Pub: Jan 18, 2013