Reprint from CD5’s Councilmember Paul Koretz’s Special Homelessness Newsletter October 11, 2019
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It would be an understatement to say that the issues of housing affordability and homelessness have become the biggest challenges facing Los Angeles right now. With thousands of people trying to survive while sleeping on sidewalks, under bushes, in cars and elsewhere, while hundreds of thousands of our neighbors are at risk of becoming homeless because they are faced with high rents or eviction, these issues are inextricably tied together and should be thought of holistically, not as discrete problems that have no bearing upon one another.
These issues inspire a lot of contradictory reactions from constituents. Some want the homeless gone from their neighborhoods, others want to support creating safe places for them to go. Some oppose new apartment construction due to the various negative impacts they feel it will have, others support it as a necessary component of reducing our housing shortage. From where I stand, any given situation is rarely as simple or straightforward as it is in the minds of many of the constituents who contact my office or approach me at a public event to opine on any side of the issue.
As a member of the City Council, one of my primary jobs is to work to solve problems, or at least to try. In situations like many of those mentioned above, in which a neighborhood or community is not unified in how it prefers to see a given problem addressed, it can get difficult. I like to seek consensus whenever possible, but sometimes I just have to do what I think is right.
When it comes to the housing affordability and homelessness crises, it’s not always clear exactly what consensus looks like. But the bottom line is that solutions which protect neighborhoods while keeping or getting people housed are the preferred solutions as far as I’m concerned.
This newsletter is about the various things my staff and I have been working on, things the City and County are working on, and resources available to individuals and communities relative to housing and homelessness. I hope it provides you with information that is both helpful and useful.
KORETZ INITIATIVES IN HOUSING, TENANTS’ RIGHTS AND HOMELESSNESS
Eviction Defense and Prevention: (Click to view - Council File 18-0610) The annual Homeless Count has consistently indicated that about 20% of the homeless in L.A. are people who were housed within the previous six to twelve months. In June 2018, Councilmember Koretz proposed that the City Council consider creating an eviction defense and prevention program to provide assistance to tenants at risk of becoming homeless who are threatened with unfair, illegal or otherwise avoidable evictions.
In the year-plus since, he has worked with Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Housing and Community Investment Department, landlord associations and a large consortium of tenant advocates to construct a program to provide tenants with legal assistance, wrap-around services, mediation and other tools that can help them avoid losing their homes while not victimizing good landlords who follow the rules and the law. Councilmember Koretz fought for the inclusion of nearly $3M in the current City Budget to fund a program launch that is anticipated early in 2020.
Inclusionary Zoning: (Council File 18-0315) In 2009 the City lost a lawsuit whose practical consequence was that it could not require developers to involuntarily include affordable units in new multi-family apartment projects. It wasn’t until 2018, when the state legislature approved a bill overriding this court decision that the concept, known as “inclusionary zoning,” once again became viable.
In April 2018 Councilmember Koretz and several Council colleagues proposed that the City look at how such a policy could best be implemented in Los Angeles. The Department of Housing and Community Investment (HCID) has been working on a set of recommendations to bring back to the Council in the coming months.
Ellis Act Reform: (Council File 14-0268-S4) The state Ellis Act was approved in the 1990s to provide formal mechanisms to allow landlords to take their buildings off the rental market while providing some protections for tenants facing eviction as a result. As the rental market has tightened in California – and especially in Los Angeles – the need arose for the City to look at its implementation policies for Ellis Act evictions and how they interfaced with the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO).
In June 2015, Councilmember Koretz proposed that the City look at how best to update those policies and strengthen protections for tenants, leading to several amendments to the RSO. Other Councilmembers have also proposed changes along these lines, and Councilmember Koretz and his colleagues also have annually supported proposed Ellis Act reforms before the state legislature.
Affordable Rental Unit Registry: (Council File 18-0911) The City’s shortage of affordable rental housing has placed a strain on renters in need of such units. Various kinds of rent-restricted units are being included in new apartment buildings as a function of density bonuses, Transit-Oriented Community projects and the like, but would-be renters have trouble finding out about these units in time to apply to rent them.
Responding to the need to improve communication with regard to these units, Councilmember Koretz proposed that the Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) create an easily accessible on-line registry where people could go to learn about them in a timely manner. Even without waiting for formal Council approval, HCID responded by starting work to establish such a registry, which hopefully will be ready for use in 2020.
Condominium Conversions: (Council File 17-0480; 18-0354) During times of heavy development pressure, existing naturally-occurring affordable rental housing often is at risk of either being demolished to make way for new projects or converted to profitable condominium use. Either way, this leads to tenants being evicted and thrust into the tight, expensive rental market in Los Angeles, or sometimes being forced to move out of the city, or onto the streets.
Observing the problems proposed condominium conversions can cause for tenants, Councilmember Koretz has offered proposals to tighten up the City’s regulations regarding how such proposals can be approved. His proposal to improve how local apartment vacancy rates are determined was approved by the City Council leading to more timely accounting of those rates in condo conversion cases, while his proposal to clarify when conversions can be disapproved is pending.
PRODUCTION OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Councilmember Koretz took office in July 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. The resultant slowdown in development and the high cost of land in the neighborhoods within the Fifth Council District have made the construction of affordable housing economically difficult. This has contributed substantially to the housing affordability crisis in the city and the region.
Nevertheless, the inventory of new affordable buildings either completed, under construction or currently proposed continues to slowly grow and, as of this writing, now numbers 194, including two Measure HHH projects in the planning stages in CD 5 (one on La Brea near Santa Monica Boulevard and the other on Santa Monica Boulevard near Sepulveda). In addition, a small number of density bonus units also have been included in other projects. Councilmember Koretz is always on the lookout for opportunities to generate affordable housing opportunities for Angelenos.
Seniors: (Council File 15-1138-S1) Shortly after the City Council initially approved the City’s Comprehensive Homeless Strategy (CHS) the results of the 2015 Homeless Count were made public, showing that nearly one-third of the persons experiencing homelessness are aged 55 or older. Additionally, it was also clear that senior renters are often among the most vulnerable to evictions, unaffordable rent increases and other pressures that could force them into homelessness. Councilmember Koretz noticed that seniors were not called out in any way in the otherwise thorough CHS, so he introduced a motion calling for those in charge of CHS implementation to factor the needs of seniors into their strategies, planning and programs.
Important information on helping seniors deal with the threat of homelessness can be found here.
Safe Parking: “Safe Parking” is the term commonly used to describe off-street locations where homeless persons living in vehicles can legally park and sleep overnight. The sites are usually managed by professionals, with security and restroom facilities provided. The 2019 Homeless Count estimated that there are some 8,000 people living in vehicles around Los Angeles. Many residents and business owners are uncomfortable with them parking near residences or businesses, creating a difficult problem for both those in the vehicles and the City’s decision makers.
This has led to litigation which voided a previous prohibition on living in vehicles parked on public streets, adoption of a Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) section (85.02) specifying locations where such parking is legal, and a push to create Safe Parking sites to accommodate as many of the vehicles as possible.
So far only about 300 off-street spaces have been provided at a cost exceeding $1M (the big expense is for security and leasing portable restrooms) with another 50-100 currently in the works, so a lot remains to be done. So far there is one such site in Council District 5, with several others under consideration, but the City must make a more substantial financial commitment to the program or else come up with other solutions for accommodating the usually “high functioning” homeless persons living in their vehicles, or both. (One idea for expanding the concept would be to make use of community college parking lots, providing security and portable restrooms as is done at current safe parking sites.)
Street Homelessness: The most visible face of homelessness in Los Angeles is the proliferation of people sleeping on sidewalks, in parks or in other locations, either individually or in groups (usually termed “encampments”). These persons experiencing homelessness cover the entire range of ages, ethnicities, and behavioral types. The largest concentration of street homeless are in the so-called Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, but there are smaller concentrations in other parts of the city as well.
In Council District 5, the largest known concentration through early 2019 was at Poinsettia Park in the Beverly Grove area. An encampment of 75-100 occupied the perimeter of the park, most of whom were not causing problems. Unfortunately there was a core group who were using drugs and/or committing crimes in the surrounding neighborhood, including theft, arson and attempted murder. After arranging for the non-offenders to receive assistance and services, Councilmember Koretz called for enforcement against those causing problems and committing serious crimes, ending the Poinsettia encampment.
While scattering encampments can provide some relief to neighboring residents from the negative impacts of misbehaving campers, it’s only a temporary remedy. The campers spread out into the surrounding area, becoming harder to locate for outreach workers attempting to help them get services and get off the streets, so breaking up encampments is a mixed-bag solution, and the very last resort.
Additionally, the City is operating under court orders that limit how it can impose enforcement on homeless persons and their belongings. These civil liberty-supporting court orders often frustrate residents, but they serve to motivate the City and communities to seek more constructive options, such as providing more shelter beds, storage locations and supportive housing. Proposals to try to limit where homeless persons can camp on sidewalks, for example, primarily push them from one location to another without addressing the underlying issues or providing actual solutions, and Councilmember Koretz remains reluctant to support these efforts.
The frustrating proliferation of street dwellers is likely to remain a large issue in Los Angeles until the City and County of Los Angeles (responsible under state law for funding social services) are more successful at providing better options for persons experiencing homelessness.
The Los Angeles Municipal Code section 48.18 debate: (Council File 19-0602-S1) On September 24, 2019, the City Council held a lengthy discussion on set of proposals developed by the City Attorney in response to a motion by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell to amend Section 48.18, which deals with where and under what circumstances people can “obstruct” public rights-of-way. These proposals were developed with the intention of adjusting L.A.’s law regarding where, when and how persons experiencing homelessness can sleep on public sidewalks in response to a 9th Circuit federal court decision voiding a Boise, Idaho law banning such activity. (The City of Los Angeles already is constrained in its ability to regulate sleeping on sidewalks by a separate court decision.)
The proposals the City Council discussed included some sweeping prohibitions near schools, parks, daycare centers, homeless housing, bike paths, building entryways and other locations that critics alleged would make it nearly impossible for the unsheltered homeless to find places to sleep in over half the city. After a series of impassioned comments by Councilmembers, the matter was referred back to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee where potential amendments to the proposal will be considered in the near future.
Councilmember Koretz offered his own thoughts on the matter as follows:
“I know this legislation is well intended, it was intended to protect children and others, but I think it goes way too far. I think it sends a wrong message, that homeless people are always a danger. We wonder why people object when we try to build a homeless shelter or HHH housing in their community, and thousands of people come out. It’s because we told them homeless people are dangerous and we believe so too, and that’s why we try to legislate them out of existence.
“On the other hand, I think there need to be some regulations, they can’t sleep in driveways or they’re going to wind up getting run over. I don’t think they should sleep in the entrances of schools, we must have access to the public facilities that we need.
“At the same time if you built 500 foot concentric circles around all of them, I don’t know if anyone has really figured out the statistics, but you might wipe out half of the places where they can sleep. Half the people that have been complaining about homelessness will be happy, the other half will be unhappy because there will be twice as many homeless people in their neighborhoods. It’s random and I don’t think that there is any logic or excuse for it.
“I hope that we will come back with the narrowest of regulations so that all of our entities can function, and people will be able to drive into the driveways of schools, which you wouldn’t want someone sleeping in, for their safety and ours. I think we really need to limit it, and we need to go back as Mr. Bonin said, to focus in on the greater need which is to solve the problem as quickly as we can.”
Youth Homelessness: A tragic segment of the homeless population consists of young people, many of whom are alienated from friends and family. A network of resources exists to assist youth experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Some of those resources can be found here.
RESOURCES FOR HELPING THE HOMELESS, PREVENTING HOMELESSNESS AND HELPING THOSE AT RISK
Los Angeles County Homeless Outreach Portal: (LA-hop) LA-HOP is designed to streamline the process of connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with outreach services that can help them deal with their situation and eventually find shelter or housing. Created by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), LA-HOP allows people with web access to report people in need to the growing network of service providers working to connect with the homeless and provide them with assistance.
Problem-Solving: (Problem-Solving) A promising new LAHSA program launches in October 2019 that will provide expertise and resources to address many of the housing and crisis-related issues that many seniors, low income residents and other people often face without warning. Councilmember Koretz and his staff often are confronted by situations in which people in crisis are looking for help to remain in their homes, avoid homelessness, deal with financial setbacks, and so on.
The new Problem-Solving program is intended to provide the means to respond to these challenges in a positive, targeted manner. LAHSA expects to have a website up-and-running in the coming weeks. In the meantime it is training service providers and others in how to address the kinds of problems people are faced with.
211LA is the central source for providing information and referrals for all health and human services in L.A. County. The 2-1-1 phone line is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, with trained Community Resource Advisors prepared to offer help with any situation, any time (including homelessness and mental health).
The 2-1-1 line can also be reached by dialing (800) 339-6993. The 211LA website includes information on housing, seniors, food, domestic violence, transportation, health care, mental health, crisis services, substance use disorder, income and employment, legal assistance, LGBTQ, children and families, youth services, veteran services and re-entry.
Get Help: (Get-Help) LAHSA’s Get Help web page is a portal to a variety of services and information that homeless persons, or anyone looking to help a homeless person, can access. It includes links for single adults, families and youth seeking shelter and services. It also has information on heat wave cooling centers, grievance processes, training materials and LAHSA’s telephone hotline [(213) 225-6581].
Midtown Coalition: (Midtown Coalition) The Midtown Coalition (formerly the Midtown Los Angeles Homeless Coalition) is a group of individuals, organizations and service providers dedicated to addressing the problems of homelessness in the Midtown neighborhoods of Beverly Grove, Fairfax, Hollywood, Miracle Mile, Park La Brea, and surrounding areas. The Coalition works to bring services to persons experiencing homelessness in these neighborhoods and to help them get off the streets and into shelter or housing. The Coalition also provides involvement opportunities for interested members of the community and helps recruit volunteers for the annual Homeless Count held every January.
NEW STATE LEGISLATION IMPACTING HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
The following bills passed the legislature and have been signed by Governor Gavin Newsom; they will go into effect on January 1, 2020:
AB 1482, which places a cap on annual rent increases of 5% plus inflation (about 8% total) for all rental properties that are more than 15 years old. This cap will be in effect until 2030. Newer properties are exempted (less than 15 years old), as are single family homes in cases where the landlord owns fewer than 10 units. In addition, the bill adds just cause eviction protections to tenants that have lived in their units for 12 months or more. Many landlords are threatening to impose substantial rent increases or to try to evict tenants prior to January 1, 2020, the date AB 1482 goes into effect, so the City Council is looking at measures to protect tenants in the affected units in last weeks of 2019.
SB 329, which extends source of income protections statewide and requires that landlords treat current or prospective tenants with a subsidy (such as a Section 8 voucher or Rapid Re-Housing voucher) the same as other tenants or applicants.
AB 1197, which provides a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption to any supportive or interim housing in the City of Los Angeles funded by Proposition HHH, the HEAP, or the HHAPP program.
SB 330, which will accelerate housing construction in California by cutting the time it takes to obtain building permits, limiting fees on housing, and barring local governments from reducing the number of homes/ units that can be built. Councilmember Koretz opposed this bill as an intrusion on local control, because among other things, it limits enforcement against slumlords, and limits the number of hearings on development projects.
AB 881, which streamlines the production of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in California. In 2016, the California State Legislature passed AB 2299 (Bloom), which created a standard, ministerial approval process for ADUs. This was meant to reduce the barriers and lengthy permitting processes that local jurisdictions had implemented to reduce ADU construction. Since the passage of that measure, thousands of units have been permitted. However, ambiguities in ADU statute still exist and some cities, resistant to the creation of new housing, continue to find loopholes in the statute.
AB 881 updates and clarifies state ADU law (see link for additional information).
AB 68, which also amends previous ADU law and allows up to two ADUs per lot under prescribed circumstances.
SB 13, which prohibits a local jurisdiction from requiring the replacement of parking spaces if a garage, carport, or covered parking is demolished to construct an accessory dwelling unit (ADU). The bill also prohibits the local jurisdiction from imposing parking standards on an ADU that is located within one-half mile walking distance of public transit, and would define the term “public transit” for those purposes.