With one of the largest homeless populations in the nation, Los Angeles is looking for speedy solutions when it comes to housing.
By Sam Catanzaro
Los Angeles is in the midst of a homeless crisis, and there is a flurry of legislation going through City Council seeking to address the issue.
Los Angeles has one of the largest homeless populations in the nation, yet one of the lowest ratios of housing for individuals experiencing homelessness. In Venice, this issue is especially acute and clearly visible. The 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Survey found that Council District 11, which includes Venice, had 46 percent more individuals who are currently homeless and 54 percent less individuals sheltered in temporary housing, compared with other districts.
Constructing new affordable housing units is a lengthy process that can take years, and given that homelessness is on the rise, the City is looking for more timely solutions.
“I think that we have to look at fast solutions using resources that are already available while we are waiting for construction of any form of permanent supportive housing,” said Will Hawkins, chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council Homeless Committee.
One particular ordinance being considered by City Council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee addresses this urgency by allowing for motels, hostels, and hotels to be used as temporary transitional and supportive housing. By using structures that are already existing, this is seen as a viable stop-gap measure that could be easily implemented.
“It is not a permanent change in the configuration of a motel, it’s a temporary change in the use,” said Mark Ryavec, President of the Venice Stakeholders Association. “There is no change to the exterior of the building, they are just changing some configurations inside.”
Current regulations prohibit guest rooms constructed after 1963 from containing small cooking facilities. This ordinance would allow for the modification rooms to include hot plates, refrigerators, sinks, and microwaves to give tenants the opportunity to cook meals.
The bill requires that for every 20 units, one office space be provided for on-site supportive services. In the bill’s present form, these services are only required during program hours. The City Attorney’s Office, however, is drafting an updated version of the bill which may include a provision requiring overnight on-site supervision.
“There should be a representative there 24 hours a day in case there are any issues or problems. There are a lot of mental illnesses involved with people who are on the street and there needs to be that kind of oversight otherwise it doesn’t work,” Hawkins said.
If this bill is approved by the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, it will be voted on by the City Council as a whole. And while there seems to be broad support for the legislation from lawmakers, motel owners in Venice seem more wary.
“The City is trying to do good but nobody wants to do it,” said Sam, owner of the Encore Motel on Washington Boulevard. “The City’s intentions are good but they are doing it for the wrong people.”
Another motel owner, who wished to remain anonymous, was worried that motel rooms would be negatively impacted under this program. “They will f**k it up, your rooms. You look at the room now and then look at it in one year,” he said.
Hawkins says that the City has to make sure the program is financially viable for motel owners, something that may be a challenge in Venice where rates are high and vacancies are low. But even if this means spending more money, he thinks it is cheaper than the current system.
“Each homeless person costs the city between $70,000-$90,000 a year for services and housing,” Hawkins said. “$100 a night, $3,000 a month, $36,000 a year is still cheaper that what they are doing now.”
While this proposal seeks the address the issue of urgency by using existing structures, another ordinance in the Homelessness and Poverty Committee seeks to expedite the process of constructing new affordable housing units. The motion would suspend local laws and zoning procedures for the construction of new homeless shelters. This is made possible by a new section of the California Code which allows cities to bypass regulations upon the declaration of a shelter crisis.
“Given the need to further expand emergency shelter and crisis housing, the City should take advantage of the new legal authority established by California Government Code,” wrote Councilmember Jose Huizar in the motion.
Venice stakeholders, however, are also not enthusiastic about the proposal. Residents in neighborhoods where a new, expedited project is being built would have very little, if any, say on questions of density, zoning, and height.
“It is undemocratic and really autocratic in its operation and basically would result in residents, if they happen to live near one of these sites chosen by the City, having all of their rights as an American to comment on a development that could significantly impact their life, voided,” Ryavek said. “I don’t think it is appropriate to the long-standing character of Venice.”
Hawkins agrees with this assessment, saying that “It’s not fair to the people in those neighborhoods to have something drop next to their house that they did not approve.”
Ryavek is also concerned that this proposal would increase traffic and reduce parking in Venice. Under this motion, a developer constructing a new emergency housing project would not have to provide parking spaces for tenants. This is based off the assumption that homeless individuals do not have a need for parking, a notion Ryavec disagrees with.
“It is a myth that homeless housing doesn’t provide a demand for parking,” Ryavec said. “As they get stabilized and get job training or education, as they grow a family or add a spouse, they will move up the economic ladder and one of the first things they will buy is a car.”
As both of these pieces of legislation are still pending in the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, the public still has time to provide input. Councilman Mike Bonin is a member of the Committee and can be reached at 11thdistrict.com/contact-us. The Venice Neighborhood Council meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Westminster Elementary School and is open to the public.