Audit: LA Homelessness Support Efforts Plagued by Delays, High Costs

A homeless encampment stretches along Third Avenue and Sunset in Venice, a Los Angeles neighborhood that is home to the largest concentration of homeless people on the Westside. (Martin Macias Jr. / CNS)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A billion-dollar housing and shelter program approved by Los Angeles voters as a solution to rising homelessness in the city is being hampered by excessive delays and rising costs as the number of people sleeping on the street continues to surge, according to an audit released Wednesday.

The number of homeless people in LA, the nation’s second largest city, stands at roughly 41,000 — 16% higher than last year — according to the city’s homelessness count, which shows Black people and Native Americans are disproportionately represented in the data.

Deaths among homeless people in LA have also surged at an alarming rate, increasing by 30% this year. As of the end of August, at least 865 homeless people had died so far in 2020.

Advocates for the homeless have long demanded city leaders facilitate housing construction and provide medical and social service support to people living on the street in addition to ending a law enforcement-minded approach to dealing with the crisis.

Under voter-approved Proposition HHH, the city plans to spend $1.2 billion to construct at least 10,000 housing units along with temporary homeless shelters and facilities where homeless people can store their property.

A city audit of the program in 2019 recommended shifting the bulk of program spending to less costly housing projects and infusing efficiency into the administrative process behind the measure.

But the program continues to fall short of its stated goals and is plagued by cost overruns and costly delays, according to the latest audit by LA Controller Ron Galperin.

Galperin found that four years of Proposition HHH spending has so far only produced three housing projects and a handful more that won’t open their doors for another two to four years.

On average, housing projects financed with HHH-funds take between three to six years to complete and developers have been granted work extensions ranging from 42 days to more than a year, the fiscal watchdog found. At this pace, at least 80% of HHH-funded housing units won’t open their doors until 2022 or later, according to the report.

Another barrier to the rapid housing of homeless people is the rising cost of construction.

Before a shovel digs a mound of dirt for an HHH project, the average development cost per unit ranged from $507,000 in 2019 to $559,000 in 2020, with the largest price tag hovering at $746,000, the report found.

A third of all per-unit cost estimates stand at more than $600,000 and the highest bill, so far, for any project exceeds $76 million, Galperin found.

“Meanwhile, the crisis has gotten far worse, compounded by pressing Covid-19 health and safety concerns,” Galperin said in a statement Wednesday. “We cannot stay the course when people are dying every day on our streets.”

Garcetti’s Prop HHH website says the city has 110 housing projects at various stages of development that total roughly 7,400 units. Another 2,000 units are being added using non-HHH funds, according to the city.

At this point, Galperin said the best course of action for authorities is to spend the remaining $30 million in program funds on immediate relief for homeless people. That relief could mean housing homeless people in existing buildings such as hotels, office spaces and commercial units and building additional temporary shelters that provide safe and sanitary conditions for unhoused people, the report, titled “Meeting the Moment: An Action Plan To Advance Prop. HHH,” said.

In a statement, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s spokesperson Alex Comisar said the mayor appreciates Galperin’s recommendations but that building permanent housing is “what we promised voters when they passed Prop. HHH.”

“That’s the kind of housing we know will help us end homelessness,” Comisar said, noting Garcetti has also pushed for more shelter capacity to bring Angelenos indoors immediately.

But even if Proposition HHH administrators succeed in building every housing unit possible, tens of thousands of homeless people in LA will still sleep without a roof over their heads, Galperin said, adding the city must develop a comprehensive, long-term vision for eradicating homelessness.

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