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Tue, Apr

FindMeAHomeLA, A New Agency for a Kinder Gentler City?

LOS ANGELES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - A couple of weeks ago someone suggested that Los Angeles could expedite and simplify its homelessness program by emulating the very successful film production offices that help draw work and economic investment to cities and states across the country, indeed around the world. 

Not a bad idea at all. 

A recent CityWatch article pointed out that to help the homeless entails involving numerous departments: the Sanitation Department, LAPD, Street Services and Parking Enforcement, CARE Plus teams, not to mention the Homeless Services Authority as well as other key County, State and Federal agencies to help those living in encampments, shelters, their cars or just couch-surfing. 

Now we have the mayor’s homelessness Czar and the Emergency Management Department in the mix. 

But we also have FilmLA as an existing model that has already paved the way to address concerns for people and communities and expedite clearances, approvals and all the headaches that revolve around film and TV production addressing the often-opposing concerns from multiple parties. 

From what they’ve learned, the City should certainly be able to create a more effective approach for addressing some of the chokepoints that have been stifling progress to get our unhoused off the streets. 

Building on some of the action items identified in the above-referenced CityWatch article and adding more holistic approaches, ones that have been discussed but never implemented on a large scale across the country: 

  • increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage along with sufficient incentives to employers to encourage them to stay in place
  • measures to expand shared and housing collectives to generate pride and commitment, and redevelop the community support mechanisms that have faded in recent decades with nuclear families and perpetual relocations
  • investment in our infrastructure – upgrading what currently exists but, more importantly, discerning what is needed for the next leap forward such as dismantling centralized systems and replacing them with local iterations that are primarily self-sufficient and will increase resilience but can connect into larger grids during emergencies
  • revamping the tax system to encourage businesses to invest in our City rather than the extraction and squirreling away of profits
  • reimagining corporate structures to ensure everything from healthcare to developers, from employers to apartment owners are far more accountable, including their executives and managers 

To reiterate we don’t need more housing construction. After all, both Los Angeles and California are hemorrhaging inhabitants to other states where the living is cheaper and the governments less restrictive. Well, at the moment. 

What we need to do is find a way to make the housing we do have more affordable. This may be a test, but not necessarily one with only one right answer. In fact, hosing down homelessness with a multitude of solutions is far more likely to put out the fire and provide bulwarks against its causes gaining traction for a rebirth when situations change. 

What we definitely don’t need is corporate greed trumping public need by razing existing rent-controlled units to make way for more unaffordable housing. 

We don’t need neighborhoods emptied as prices force long-term residents out to allow developers to scoop up land cheaply. 

We don’t want buildings, new and old, to stand empty once the demand subsides as, to their regret, many Eastern cities have learned the hard way that the one certainty that comes with abandoned buildings is an increase in crime. 

We don’t need environmental protections eviscerated, safety issues skirted, and the desire to maintain a sense of community sold out for a WalMart version of Los Angeles. 

The film industry is touted and subsidized at the State and City level for its ability to generate good jobs and a thriving economy. How can we use its success to help our unhoused brethren? 

FilmLA is the official film office of the City and County of Los Angeles, set up specifically to encourage production to remain in SoCal by streamlining and enhancing the on-location experience for both communities and producers. 

Streamlining and efficiency do not mean gutting protections but, instead, are intended to lead to a more satisfying experience for all. 

FilmLA’s core service is to “provide expert, centralized coordination of multi-jurisdictional on-location filming permits in the world’s highest-volume film production region.” 

It encourages advance preparation and educates filmmakers on neighborhood concerns and restrictions and so pre-empts potential conflict, ensuring less stress for those living in areas that are being filmed in and taking on the complexity of the many City, County and other entities involved, reducing headaches and costs for the production. 

Their focus is on finding ways to minimizes inconvenience to communities while maximizing production dollars. Permits are coordinated with neighborhood-specific concerns in mind. Impacts in areas where there are narrow twisty streets with limited parking are addressed differently than for a main thoroughfare with businesses dependent on commuter traffic. 

Although FilmLA notifies residents and businesses door-to-door in advance about filming activity with a number to call for further information, there are always a few problems and those are the complaints people hear about. However, by dealing with the bulk of the concerns up front and listening to concerns on either side, most of the problems just aren’t. 

FilmLA assigns monitors to “sensitive filming locations to provide community members and production companies with aid throughout the filming day” and are an asset to producers when they take the time to explain the economic, civic and cultural benefits to disgruntled residents. 

Taking it to housing the homeless: having a City representative on the ground to address, to translate what’s happening – not from the top down but from the bottom up – whether the issue is placing temporary housing and services in a parking lot, converting abandoned warehouses to short-term residences, or establishing collectives to stimulate job training and growth, people want to know every step of the way. 

They want their hands held and they want someone to call if they see anything going wrong so it can be dealt with right now and before it’s too late. The ongoing removal of hundred year-old trees without a permit is a case in point. 

And all those jobs that went to Mexico and China? Bring them back. 

After years of productions fleeing to cheaper venues, taking good jobs with them and eviscerating film infrastructure, California and Los Angeles buckled down to attract back as many as possible to ensure the Greater Los Angeles economy continues to thrive. 

In the same way, to continue to thrive, the Greater Los Angeles area must make every effort to resolve the homelessness blight. Its costs are many: tourists, environment, health and human. 

And solutions must be holistic. Not just for the next fiscal year but for the next century. 

These steps, although shockingly costly to the bean counters staring at an initial bottom line, would allow the City to offer its inhabitants long term solutions to both homelessness and crime.

  • Increase wages
  • Preserve older, more affordable housing
  • Strengthen rent control
  • Incentivize office conversions that make structural and economic sense
  • Clamp down on discretionary zoning approvals that have driven ever-escalating housing and land costs, and contributed to overcrowding and homelessness
  • Take major steps to stop the commodification of real estate 

Houses and apartments should be respected as homes, not form the nexus of profiteering by the likes of Stephen Schwarzman’s Blackstone Group using ginned-up fees, grossly inflated charges for repairs, and other quasi-legal pressure to push out low and middle-income tenants so it can raise rents, further shriveling the supply of available affordable units. 

When Angelenos can make a living wage, they will spend that money and they will be spending it in their neighborhoods, not in the Caymans or the gaming tables in Monaco. Their spending will boost businesses in their communities – the rising tide that lifts all boats. 

These people will also pay their taxes instead of paying accountants and lawyers to find ways to hide their money overseas. 

When people don’t have to pay half their income and more in rent, they are able to save to cover expenses such as unexpected medical bills that might otherwise throw them into bankruptcy. And out on the street. 

They save for their own house. They rebuild their neighborhoods where their families and friend live, from the inside out. Angelenos who own their own homes take pride in their property and keep an eye on what’s happening on their streets, improving their communities. 

To allow more market-rate development to inflict itself on our already dangerously aging infrastructure is plain stupid. It needs to be upgraded, yes, but for the existing residents, not to help developers profit. A side benefit will be the reduction of costs – from road repairs, insurance claims and liability lawsuits from cracked sidewalks, cratered potholes spouting mains and more. 

The rich can still live luxurious lives at the same time as stimulating jobs and funding better city services. Businesses can still be incredibly successful when they are run by the workers. There are plenty of policies and tax proposals that can help our City achieve such ends. 

Crimes associated with homelessness, theft, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, and trespassing do need to be addressed and minimized. But first and foremost, we must also deal with the crimes of inequity and exploitation.  

We need to rise up and demand long term solutions, long term prosperity for all residents of Los Angeles. We need to have the City invest in itself, create a sister entity to FilmLA to coordinate all the parties and repel the corruption and make our Los Angeles a place we can be proud to call home.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)