California Mayors Support $1.5B Plan to Tackle Homelessness

(Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Mayors from California’s 11 largest cities voiced their support in the state capitol Wednesday for a bill to spend $1.5 billion on housing developments and rental assistance for the state’s growing homeless population.

California’s homeless population now stands at 134,278, according to a 2017 statewide count, an increase of 16 percent from 2015. Cities use their own general funds and money coming from voter-approved, tax-funded ballot measures to provide shelter and supportive services, but many find it’s not enough.

“Cities are on the front lines in the fight against homelessness,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “But we can’t do it alone.”

Assembly Bill 3171 would fund long-term housing linked with social services and rental assistance. The bill also would fund emergency shelters and centers that direct people to public services.

Lawmakers said total funding, when combined with matching funds from cities, could reach $3 billion.

AB 3171 is scheduled for its first legislative hearing before the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee on April 25.

“AB 3171 would give us the state funding we need to get all of our unsheltered into homes as soon as possible,” Garcetti said.

Also Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council passed two ordinances to streamline building housing for the homeless and amend city building codes to allow conversion of motels for use as temporary housing.

The ordinance amends municipal code to facilitate conversion of motels and hotels across the city into housing sites that link the homeless with long-term care providers. LA County will fund motel conversions.

City leaders approved ordinances as Los Angeles wrestles with a housing crisis. Many unhoused residents are unable to access shelters, while most residents struggle to find affordable housing. The city has had to be creative to fill gaps in housing availability as rates of homelessness increased 20 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Advocates for short-term and permanent housing for Los Angeles’ homeless population celebrated the passage of the ordinances.

Jeffery Sutton moved into a shelter after years of being caught up in courts and juvenile detention as a youth. He said the shelter set him up with job training and health services. “I’m being real, it saved my life,” he said.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said “infrastructure exists already” in the form of “underutilized” motels and hotels. He said motel owners are “ready and eager to play a constructive role.”

Councilmember Jose Huizar said the ordinance would help house people “immediately” in converted motels while planning for long-term housing developments funded by voter-approved Measure HHH. The measure, passed in 2016, authorizes $1.2 billion in bonds to fund the construction of 10,000 units of housing for homeless people.

The City Council in late March OK’d the development of at least 222 new units of supportive housing in each of their districts. The projects would be funded by Measure HHH with the goal of adding 3,330 units over a three-year period citywide.

Some of the services available at the sites will include mental health treatment, health care access support, drug and alcohol treatment, education and job training.

The ordinance defines “supportive housing” as housing with “no limit on length of stay for persons with low incomes who have one or more disabilities.” Transitional housing is linked to supportive services, usually offered for a period of up to 24 months, with the goal of placement in permanent housing.

Each district will work with city planners to identify potential sites, both private and publicly owned, suitable for development.

Feuer said he expects residents will have “legitimate concerns” about the proposed conversion developments but that each community will have to find “their champion” to rally support for addressing homelessness.

“Every area has some location to accomplish this goal,” he said “The alternative is to have people sleeping on sidewalks.”

District 8 Councilmember Marqueece Harris Dawson said the ordinance “will cut red tape in developing permanent supportive housing.” He said his district has more motels than any other district in the city.

“After this meeting, I want everyone to drive around and talk to motel owners,” he said. “We need to get everyone on board.”

 

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