Councilmember Koretz and City Council Look to Step Up Efforts to Address Homelessness

A reprint from Councilmember Paul Koretz newsletter. To sign-up for CD5’s newsletters, please click here.

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The CD5 office regularly receives complaints and inquiries about what Councilmember Koretz and the City are doing to deal with the explosion of homelessness we see all around us.  The implication generally is that we’re not doing anything, or at least enough. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The last couple of weeks of June were big weeks for the City ramping up the amount of energy and resources being devoted to tackling homelessness.

The Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee (on which Councilmember Koretz sits) approved two reports to set a new plan for the clean-up of homeless encampments and illegal dumping into motion.  This plan will expand the number of clean-up crews and interdepartmental HOPE teams and make it possible for clean-ups to take place on demand when requests are received from Council offices. It will also deploy trash receptacles at, and make mobile bathroom facilities available to, homeless encampments to address basic needs.

The plan is set to become operational after the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1st.  Some new City workers will have to be hired and equipment procured, so it could take a couple of months before the Bureau of Sanitation is ready to roll the new plan out.

On Wednesday, June 26th, the Council devoted nearly four hours to presentations and discussions about the state of homelessness in Los Angeles.  Putting data to work providing insights on what’s behind the reality we see on the streets every day, experts from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), Los Angeles County, the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) and the City Administrative Office (CAO) spoke for more than an hour about the 2019 Homeless Count (which found homelessness up 16% in the City), the status of various programs and the HHH housing program (which has now has 79 projects in the works), the A Bridge Home shelter program (3 sites open, another 15 in the works), and other ongoing efforts, such as the deployment of more hygiene and bathroom facilities.

During the ensuing discussion, Councilmember Koretz offered his thoughts and suggestions on a long list of issues and solutions meant to enhance and strengthen the work already underway:

  1. Homelessness Prevention: Use programs like “Right to Counsel” (proposed by Koretz in 2018 and expected to launch later this year) to stem the flow of people losing their homes into homelessness due to unjust evictions.

  2. Family Reunification: Prioritize reuniting people experiencing homelessness with their families.

  3. Increasing Efficiency of Housing Utilization: Employing roommate techniques such as “shared housing” and doubling up, make better use of existing or new housing to move people off the streets.

  4. Ellis/Costa-Hawkins Reform: Push the state legislature to approve modifications to the two laws most implicated in high rents and evictions often resulting in homelessness.

  5. Unpermitted Units: Use more aggressively the 2017 ordinance to allow bootleg units to be legalized.

  6. HHH Best Practices: Keep working to lower the per unit cost of new housing for the homeless through permit streamlining and innovative approaches to design and construction.

  7. Temporary Shelters: Look at whether City buildings could be used for temporary sheltering of the homeless.

  8. Section 8 Vouchers: Fully implement a City ordinance to prevent landlord discrimination against Section 8 tenants.

  9. Vacancy Tax: Continue to pursue a vacancy tax that would discourage intentional vacancy of habitable units for investment purposes.

  10. Short-Term Rental Units: As the Home Sharing Ordinance goes into effect on July 1st, work to expedite the return of rent-controlled units that are not eligible for home sharing to the regular rental market.

  11. State of Emergency: Escalate declarations of a State of Emergency regarding homelessness to provide the City with more flexibility to maximize its resources.

  12. Homeless Mentally Ill: Work with state legislators and regulators to provide local jurisdictions with more tools to deal with people experiencing both homelessness and mental illness.

  13. County Jail: Work with the County to provide treatment to mentally ill inmates in the County jail system (which already is considered the largest housing agency for the mentally ill in the U.S.).

  14. Homeless Individuals and Their Pets: Complete passage of the Koretz-proposed ordinance to require publicly-financed affordable and homeless housing projects to allow tenants to have pets.

  15. Foster Care: Push for reforms in the foster care system that currently produces thousands of homeless youth each year.

  16. Loss of Existing Affordable Housing: Work with the City Planning Department on strategies to reduce the number of affordable, rent-controlled units lost to redevelopment of properties.

  17. Safe Parking: Expand safe parking for the vehicular homeless with additional funding and by working to involve corporations and commercial property owners in voluntarily providing sites and covering expenses.

  18. Temporary Encampments: Allow the temporary use of prospective development sites for controlled encampments.

Of course, some of these ideas require more study and vetting in the communities of the city, and they don’t even represent the total of the ideas this Council office is working on relative to this issue.  But Mr. Koretz’s point was that we need to become both more creative and energetic if we’re going to start making visible progress in reducing homelessness and making the lives of those experiencing homelessness and housed residents better in the meantime.

The Councilmember welcomes your constructive ideas for addressing these tough issues.  They can be submitted to Paul.Koretz@lacity.org.