Tackling Our Homelessness and Affordable Housing Crises With Urgency, Together
Los Angeles is at a crossroads. Every day, 207 unhoused people find their way into housing while another 227 fall into homelessness. Every day, 5 unhoused Angelenos experiencing homelessness die. Every day. It is neither progressive nor compassionate to allow Angelenos to suffer and perish on the streets.
Our City and County annually spend $2 billion of our tax dollars on this humanitarian crisis, and yet homelessness has surged 64% in the last six years. Every night that an Angeleno sleeps on a street, in a park, or in a car is a shameful catastrophe that could have been prevented by better policies and bolder leadership.
It is time for a course correction, now.
It is time we do more to prevent homelessness, now.
It is time we build more shelters and more housing, now.
It is time we get people experiencing homelessness the help they need, now.
It is time to bring our unhoused neighbors indoors, now.
Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis results largely from a decades-long failure to build enough affordable housing to meet the growing demand. But affordability of housing is simply one of many causes of homelessness. Our social safety net – for which the County of Los Angeles is largely responsible – is broken. According to recent studies, the leading cause of homelessness among women is domestic violence; 50% of people experiencing homelessness under the age of 30 fell out or aged out of the foster care system; 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+; and 20% of Los Angeles community college students are unhoused.
Meanwhile, an estimated half of all Angelenos experiencing homelessness have mental health issues or are struggling with addiction. If they did not have these issues before living on the streets, each night unhoused causes and compounds trauma. We see these Angelenos suffering and battling their demons without support on increasingly dangerous streets. This is unacceptable for them and for our neighborhoods. Of course, stable permanent housing is the necessary end goal, but we must recognize that housing alone is not sufficient to solve homelessness for everyone experiencing homelessness. Nor can we continue to allow people to continue suffering on the streets while we – slowly and cumbersomely, due to bloated bureaucracy – build expensive housing ground-up. It is imperative that we help people experiencing homelessness move as soon as possible from encampments into safe shelters, transitional housing, and other interim housing options, and on a path towards permanent supportive and affordable housing.
Simply put, encampments will grow and even more people will suffer on the streets of Los Angeles if we continue to follow the same script. Repeating the same failed strategy over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.
It is time to treat the emergency crisis of homelessness with the seriousness, urgency, and compassion that it deserves.
As soon as shelter, transitional housing, and other interim housing options are available, we should utilize recently enacted Los Angeles City Ordinance 41.18 as a street engagement strategy to transition people experiencing homelessness off the streets and into shelter and housing and to ensure that our public areas are accessible and safe for all Angelenos.
It is also imperative that we keep the public apprised of our progress and challenges and that we better engage the public for greater transparency. Through working groups and local community task forces, I will leverage the talent, manpower, and resources of businesses, non-profit organizations, and volunteers throughout the 5th District to achieve workable solutions for our neighbors experiencing homelessness.
Based on data-driven research and extensive conversations with numerous homeless services providers, mental health experts, community volunteers, and non-profit affordable housing developers, this is how we shift course now:
1. Prevention of Homelessness
Studies suggest that three out of four Los Angeles households are rent-burdened, meaning they spend over 30% of household income on rent and utilities – making it extremely likely that they are only one adverse life event or an unexpected bill away from an eviction and potential homelessness. The most effective and cost-efficient approach to mitigating homelessness is to reduce the inflow in the first place.
As your Councilmember, I will fight to:
- Invest in increased rental subsidies
- Improve and expand our rental assistance programs
- Simplify and scale the Section 8 voucher program for all Angelenos who qualify
- Protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords
- Proactively mediate evictions when the eviction moratorium is eventually lifted
- Provide counsel for low-income tenants in residential eviction proceedings.
For more than a decade, I have fought for these protections as a board member and pro bono attorney with Bet Tzedek Legal Services. And I will continue to do so as your Councilmember.
- The City must also do more to step in to tackle the many causes of homelessness that are not being adequately addressed by the County, including helping foster and LGTBQ+ youth, delivering better mental health and addiction treatment, and developing more effective and innovative job training and employment assistance programs.
2. Triaging Homelessness Through Homeless Shelters
When someone falls into homelessness, the City of Los Angeles has a duty to provide safe shelter immediately and triage any suffering on the streets. Instead, the City of Los Angeles is spending upwards of 6 years and $750,000 to build a single unit of homeless housing.
It is akin to allowing someone suffering from hypothermia to freeze to death in the cold while we take 6 years to build a brand-new hospital nearby. It is outrageous and unacceptable. We can no longer permit the perfect to be the enemy of the good. It is time to pivot our City and County’s $2 billion in annual spending to save lives NOW.
As your Councilmember, I will fight for:
- A massive infusion of various short-term shelter and housing options to serve as a bridge for those currently living on our streets. Like other cities, Los Angeles must transform its shelter approach using more cost-effective models, such as tiny homes and pallet shelters on unused government land (but not our public parks) that can be up and running within one week for less than $20,000 per unit. Controller Ron Galperin has identified nearly 8,000 city-owned properties that are under-utilized, unused, or vacant, which can be used for interim shelter, including 27 acres of unused City land adjacent to LAX. With respect to the LAX site, I refuse to simply accept no as the final answer when federal regulations impose roadblocks to utilizing this City-owned land to save lives with urgency.
- Personalization of our safe shelter approach. Shelter seekers must feel safe in our shelters, be allowed to safely and securely store their possessions, and to bring with them their partners and pets. These barriers often discourage people from accepting shelter. Flexibility and safety in our shelters are imperative to saving lives.
- Housing our veterans. We can no longer tolerate excuses and delays for our City’s 3,000 unhoused veterans. As your Councilmember, I will work with our federal partners to prioritize the delivery of housing, wraparound services (including addiction counseling and mental health treatment), job training, and employment assistance for every veteran who served our country.
3. Prioritizing Affordable and Workforce Housing
In 1982, when I was only one year old, my parents and I arrived in Los Angeles as refugees. As we walked through LAX as new Americans, my father held two suitcases and my mother held me. We were blessed to find an affordable one-bedroom apartment, and there we restarted our lives. That same story would be impossible for many families today because, for decades, Los Angeles has failed to build enough affordable and middle-income housing.
Simply put, the problem with affordable housing is that no one can build affordable housing affordably in Los Angeles. On top of the costs for land, labor, and materials that are skyrocketing daily, the complicated maze of funding sources and governmental agencies for affordable housing projects leads to ballooning legal and consulting fees and carrying costs, which ultimately drown projects.
To address this, the City must make larger investments in preserving, acquiring, and building affordable housing innovatively. As your Councilmember, I will fight to:
- Protect existing affordable housing units and robustly enforce its affordable housing covenants. Currently, the City is failing to ensure, through public registries, audits and enforcement actions, that affordable units built as part of Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) density incentives program are actually placed on the market and rented to low-income Angelenos.
- Prioritize cost-effective acquisition of existing apartment buildings, hotels, and motels. This approach is faster, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly than building brand-new construction. Project Home-Key is one of our better approaches for affordable interim housing.
- Streamline the process for funding, permitting, and developing new affordable and workforce housing projects to reduce construction timeliness and thereby dramatically reduce costs. We can accomplish this goal by reducing permitting costs, hiring City staff devoted to move these projects expeditiously on strict timelines, zoning changes to commercial and industrial properties, reducing material costs through bulk sourcing, developing low-cost bridge financing programs, and incentivizing innovative and more cost-effective housing options such as hotel and motel conversions, prefabricated and modular housing, shared housing models, the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings for housing, and the master leasing of residential units for use as homeless housing.
As a board member of a non-profit organization building housing for adults with special needs on Pico Blvd., I have witnessed firsthand the delays, red tape, and hurdles for such win-win projects. We need leaders who will disrupt the status quo.
4. Investment in Mental Health and Addiction Services, Facilities, and Reforms
A growing population of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles are suffering from significant issues of untreated mental health, addiction, and diminished capacity. Unless we tackle these mental health and addiction crises head on, the suffering on our streets will worsen.
The City of Los Angeles has no public health or mental health department, so these issues fall squarely within the responsibility of the County of Los Angeles. Despite the hundreds of millions of tax dollars that the City of Los Angeles hands to the County every year, the County has proven incapable of delivering effective, comprehensive, and cost-efficient mental health and addiction services. For example, for over 10 million Angelenos, the County of Los Angeles provided, as of 2020, only 81 crisis residential treatment beds across 6 facilities. That is unconscionable.
Meanwhile, the time for reform of California’s mental health laws is long past-due. Currently, under the 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, unless an individual is an imminent threat to himself, an imminent threat to someone else, or gravely disabled, he or she cannot be conserved or forced to receive stabilizing care. In effect, the law forces people to suffer until the brink of a tragedy. This approach to mental health is neither progressive nor compassionate. It is cruel and ineffective.
As your Councilmember, I will:
- Scrutinize every dollar we spend on the homelessness crisis and prioritize funding to established non-profit organizations. These non-profit organizations can do more with less money and can offer personalized treatment and care for those suffering unique trauma on the streets.
- Advocate for common sense reforms to our mental health laws at the state level and local enforcement levels. Trained mental health professionals – not LAPD officers – should be the ones who reach out to individuals suffering from mental health and addiction issues, including making 5150 involuntary hold determinations.
- Incentivize and streamline the construction and conversion of mental health care facilities throughout Los Angeles. One such potential facility adjacent to the 5th District is the Olympia Medical Center, which UCLA Health recently acquired and is reportedly considering transitioning to a mental health care facility.
- Expand the mandate of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) so that it becomes the Los Angeles Homeless Solutions Authority. Since its founding in 1993, LAHSA has served largely as a pass-through agency through which federal, state, and local government funds are allocated to various private providers of shelter, housing, and services to those experiencing homelessness. While this is an important function that guards against fraud, waste, and abuse, it is akin to placing a bandage on a gaping wound. The ten appointed Commissioners (five from the city, and five from the county) should be mandated to work together to develop, advocate, and help implement broad and lasting solutions to our homelessness crisis.
5. Ensuring Public Spaces Are Clean, Safe, And Accessible For All Angelenos
While working toward the goal of bringing everyone indoors, we owe it to all housed and unhoused Angelenos to keep our streets clean, safe, and accessible. Ensuring that sidewalks are passable is required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Nor can we tolerate open-air drug trafficking, fires, or acts of violence that are increasingly occurring in encampments, including in broad daylight in residential communities. Laws must be enforced to protect both the unhoused and the community at large.
As your Councilmember, I will work to:
- Maintain basic public health, safety, and accessibility standards on the sidewalks, public spaces, and sensitive areas of the 5th District – especially near schools, parks, and libraries. However, to accomplish this, the LAPD should be the agency of last resort, not the agency of first response when it comes to our homelessness crisis. We cannot arrest our way out of homelessness.
- Transition the responsibility for outreach to social workers, mental health professionals, and non-profit organizations. These professionals – and not armed LAPD officers – should be responding to the bulk of the 140,000 calls related to homelessness that Angelenos make to LAPD and the City every year.
- Pair the right to shelter with the obligation to use it when available. In order to urgently transition people experiencing homelessness onto the path towards housing, we must use recently enacted Los Angeles City Ordinance 41.18 when necessary and appropriate. I am the only Democrat in this race willing to do so. This approach is used effectively by neighboring cities. This approach will bring unhoused Angelenos into warmth and shelter faster. This approach will return our public spaces for public use. And this approach will save lives.