Newly elected Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León’s solution for the homelessness crisis is a bold one: Build 25,000 housing units in the next four years.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — On any given night, tens of thousands of people sleep on the streets of Los Angeles, and while other major cities across the world grapple with the same problem, the City of Angels has long been synonymous with the homeless crisis.
Newly elected Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León — whose constituents include both people who sleep in tents on Skid Row and those who live in affluent downtown apartments — argues the old rules no longer work.
On Tuesday, he introduced a bold plan: Build 25,000 homes by 2025 to make a dent in the homeless crisis.
De León says his plan would bring what he calls a cohesion between local and federal that have so far been unable to deliver the type of response to the homeless and housing problems the city faces.
“The sad reality is that what we have lacked is a ‘north star,’ a clearly defined objective and timeline for achieving that goal,” de León said during a press briefing ahead of the first City Council meeting of 2021.
At the meeting, de León introduced nine motions. One involves analyzing available city-owned properties to see if they’re suitable to turn into either temporary or permanent homes. Another aims to carry on a model used during the early days of the pandemic, when state and local government agencies purchased hotels and motels to house homeless people and protect them from Covid-19.
Even before the pandemic, homelessness has been LA’s greatest challenge, a multipronged issue that has spilled over into housing, health, construction and zoning arenas.
In a 2020 report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the agency found over 41,000 homeless people live on street in LA. To address the problem, the city needed nearly 46,000 housing units according to the report.
The city has just about 24,500 units.
De León, former president pro tem of the California state Senate, wants city officials to aggressively pursue construction and aim for tangible timelines he says would fill the gap. His ambitious plans “would end the homeless crisis” in LA by overhauling existing and cumbersome city policies, he says.
“But changing policies and regulations isn’t enough. We keep saying this is a humanitarian crisis, but we haven’t shifted our institutional priorities to reflect that,” said de León. “With a sense of urgency, we must realign the tactical response of our city departments and streamline the bureaucracies that stand in the way of building.”
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who represents a portion of de León’s district, acknowledges tents are on almost every corner in some parts of the city and whole families live in cars under freeway overpasses. But building homes and keeping people in them “is not rocket science” Santiago said at the briefing.
“This is happening in a world-class city,” he said.
Solving the homeless crisis might not be a science, but the city’s response has stuck out like a sore thumb.
The city and LA County face a federal lawsuit over their handling of the homeless crisis. Both have stumbled over each other to point the finger at one another.
But de León says the solution cannot be a one-size-fits-all rule. His proposal is a wide-ranging embrace of multiple housing policies, a smorgasbord of models that includes using prefabricated housing units or repurposing old apartment buildings.
He also wants to reevaluate how the city has spent and approved funding generated through a voter-approved $1.2 billion bond. Approved in 2016, Measure HHH has failed to generate the type of housing that was promised: fewer than 500 units have been built.
The city needs to take a hard look at how Measure HHH dollars have been spent, de León said, arguing the city should “claw back” money put into stalled projects given the large number of unhoused people and the rising cost of construction.
De León’s “25 by 25” proposal, also dubbed “A Way Home” plan, would essentially double the amount of housing available in the city, but that will only happen through coordination between the city, county, federal and state agencies. He hopes the incoming Biden administration will work closely with the city to ensure more federal dollars pour in.
“Make no mistake: This will be one of our city’s most ambitious public initiatives. It will be very difficult. It will be tough, but it must be done,” said de León.