Monday, April 1, 2019

Los Angeles' Intractable Problem

Hello Everyone:

Blogger is back after a short time out to recharge the creative energies.  Despite the recharging, Blogger is feeling unwell because of seasonal allergies.  Always something, right?  Nevertheless, onward.
Last week, we talked about how a group of San Francisco Bay Area members of California's state legislature are proposing solutions to California's affordable housing crisis.  Today, we are going to head south, to Blogger's hometown, Los Angeles, to take a look at  its most intractable problem, homelessness.

Image result for homelessness los angeles: downtown
Homeless encampment
Walk down almost an street in Los Angeles city or county and chances are you will encounter a homeless person or encampment.  In Blogger's own Miracle Mile neighborhood, homeless men and women have occupied the local park, at bus stops, or near the nearest CVS Drugstore.  What is genuinely sad is that these men and women should absolutely be under psychiatric care but because of budget cuts, find themselves out on the streets or have been turned out by their families.  What can Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council do about it?
A year ago, Los Angeles City Council pledged to support new housing with supportive services in each of the fifteen council districts (; Mar. 20, 2019; date accessed Apr. 1, 2019).  To date, zero units have been approved in the northwestern portion of the San Fernando Valley, formerly represented by Mitch Englander (Ibid; Oct. 11, 2018), and only 13 units were approved in the neighboring district, represented by Bob Blumenfield (Ibid: Mar. 20, 2019).

Image result for homelessness los angeles: Westlake to Highland Park
Homeless encampment in Echo Park
In Councilmember Gil Cedillo's district, the numbers are different.  Councilmember Cedillo's Westlake-Highland Park district was approved for 650 unit.  In nearby Councilmember Jose Huizar's district, covering most of downtown and the Eastside, over 800 new supportive housing units were green lit (Ibid).  What does the disparity in the number of approved supportive housing units tell us?

The disparity in the number of approved supportive units is a trend that predated City Council's pledge, made a year ago.  Los Angeles Times reporter Emily Alpert Reyes writes, "Housing for homeless people is still being disproportionately slate for lower-income areas--especially in and around--and less so for affluent areas [Ibid; Oct. 27, 2018]."

Image result for homelessness los angeles: Chatsworth
Aggressive panhandling in Chatsworth
Out of the fifteen council district, only five account for 70 percent of the homeless units that were approved under Proposition HHH, a $1.2-billion bond measure approved by voters two in November 2016 (Ibid; Nov. 15, 2016).  The districts with the greater share of approved supportive housing are in districts spanning parts of downtown, central, and east Los Angeles, as well as South Los Angeles.

Los Angeles City Council members still have over a year to honor a self-imposed goal of promoting 222 supportive housing units, each district by July 1, 2020.  However, the uneven pattern of where the units are being built has drawn concerns inside and outside City Hall about perpetuating economic segregation and failure to meet the need that exists across the city.  Council member Cedillo described former Council member Mitch Englander's former upscale district in northwest San Fernando Valley;

There's homeless people out there,... So it needs to be built out there (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019)

Given the turtle slow progress in some districts, lawmakers have pointed to high land price, a lack of enthusiasm from developers, and other obstacles as the reasons for the lack of progress.  Colin Sweeney, the former spokeperson for Mr. Englander and an interim appointee Greig Smith ( Jan. 15, 2019), told the Times that "after one project fell through, there were no other proposals for homeless housing in the area" (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019).  Mr. Sweeney wrote in an email, We will duly consider any that come our way,..." (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019)

When queried if the council office was taking any proactive measures to encourage development, Mr. Sweeney said "staff had down an assessment of surplus city properties in the district, but the few that existed were not zoned for the right kind of development" (Ibid)

Image result for homelessness los angeles: where new homeless housing has been approved map
Map of proposed housing for homelss
     District 5 Council member Paul Koretz, who represents the affluent parts of the Westside, has stressed the high cost of land in his district and and stiff competition for any available parcels.  In Council member Koretz' district a measly 49 supportive housing units have been approved--leaving Council member Koretz less than optimistic about hitting the 222-unit goal next summer.  He told the Los Angeles Times,

People want to build market-rate housing and commercial projects in this district,  Developers are grabbing whatever they can spot,... It just hasn't been easy (Ibid)

Council member Bob Blumenfield's San Fernando districts, which covers Woodland Hills to Winnetka, wrung his hands, developers are not knocking on our door. (Ibid)

Perhaps the 222-supportive housing unit in each council district goal was a wee ambitious, given City Hall's pro-developer tendencies.

Council member Blumenfield said "he has taken steps to encourage housing and services in his area: He enlisted the city to purchase a site in Reseda, which led to a project with 13 units for homeless residents" (Ibid).  This year, he also tasked his staff with the job of studying whether some of city-owned Reseda area parking lots could be converted into parcels for supportive housing units.  He argued that the pledge did not oblige him to personally new units, I don't think the numbers are a fair representation of the work I'm doing. (Ibid)

Homeless advocates argue that constructing supportive housing around Los Angeles will allow people to rebound in their own communities.  However, the downtown areas has the largest share of homeless residents, including thousands on the sidewalks of Skid Row and the affluent and suburban districts have a burgeoning homeless population who also need shelter, according to Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count (Ibid; Jan. 23, 2019)

Carlos Amador, a member of the Granada Hills South Neighborhood and candidate for Mitch Englander's seat expressed his frustration, 

It's not only disheartening--it's immoral [that Englander's old district] "does not have any HHH housing on the way."  City leaders not hear from community members who are homeless, but they exist in our district. (Ibid; Mar. 20, 2019)
Image result for homelessness: Chatsworth, California
A motor home parked along Nordhoff
In one makeshift encampment along the Metrolinks tracks, about a dozen people nightly bed down.  The areas is enclosed by chain link fencing and a concrete wash, a sort of moat, mark the boundaries.  Kimberly Wetter, homeless for a few years, said that "Most people call it the Compound" (Ibid).  She prefers to use the term "Gated Community."  Ms. Wetter told the Times,

When you're not homeless you think 'God, look at those people,.... Then you get here (Ibid)

There is a sense of safety in numbers instead of trying to survive alone.  Everyone watches out for one another and warn when police are nearby.

Ms. Wetter and several others say they do not want to relocate to another part of Los Angeles because they would, understandably, feel lost.  The denizens of the Compound feel a sense of permanence.  Brackett, a homeless man pushing shopping carts down the sidewalk, was familiar with Chatsworth like the back of his hand.  Mel Tillekeratne, an organizer for the homeless women's shelter advocacy group #SheDoes, told the Los Angeles Times,

Homeless people want to stay in the areas they're familiar with,... The retention rates [in housing] are only going to be high if we build housing where people are used to staying"  (Ibid)

Some residents are skeptical of efforts to keep homeless people in their communities.  One of the skeptics is Sean Dinse, a Los Angeles Police lead officer and candidate for Mitch Englander's seat, agrees that more supportive housing units are needed in the district, but, 

 housing is not going to solve this problem until we address the issues of mental illness and drug addiction (Ibid)  He added,

[Neighbors] need to be able to trust that these supportive housing units are not going to turn into a nuisanance  (Ibid)

This past December, Council member Curren Price motioned the "city to find new ways to to encourage developers to build homeless housing in wealthier areas."  Council member Price wrote the Times,

...the responsibility to fix the homeless crisis and the weight must be equally divided [across council districts] (Ibid)

Under Proposition HHH, Los Angeles has begun incentivizing homeless housing development on private property with high land costs.  Seven such projects have been proposed for this fiscal year, including Sherman Oaks and the Fairfax district represented by Council member Paul Koretz

Emily Alpert Reyes writes, "Housing advocates also point out that despite the ongoing imbalance of where homeless housing is built, there has been progress.  Before the pledge, 44% of the existing units of supportive housing were in Huizar's downtown-to-Eagle Rock district, according to figures from the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.  Out of the newly approved units, that number is 20%." (Ibid)

New supportive housing units are also coming to areas that little housing units in the past.  One place new supportive housing units are coming to is a district that borders the Pacific Coast, represented by Council member Mike Bonin.  Thus far, Council member Bonin has backed 200 units--which will quadruple the number of homeless housing units in his district.

Although Council member Bonin's district includes some of the most expensive land in the city, he managed to get around the problem by championing development on city-owned sites and parcels owned by the United States Department of Veteran Affair, winning accolades from housing advocates.  Some of his constituents complained that too many homeless projects are being located in Venice rather than spread out through the district.

Ms. Alpert Reyes cautions " property is not a panacea: City analysts found that only four out 428 'surplus' parcels could be used for housing or homeless services, since many were too small, already in use, impractical to build on, or had other issues" (Ibid).  Los Angeles civic officials are already looking at alternative sites around the Westside and the northwest San Fernando Valley.

Mayor Eric Garcetti's chief housing officer Ben Winter expressed optimism over the possibility of citywide initiatives as a source for easing development--"including incentives to build affordable housing along transit corridors--could help chip away, over time, at geographic inequity in housing for the poor.  Mr. Winter correctly surmised that such segregation has been decades in the making.... We won't break down all those barriers at once. (Ibid) 


No comments:

Post a Comment