L.A. City Council report will seek out landlords who keep homes vacant
By CITY NEWS SERVICE | PUBLISHED: September 20, 2019 at 4:35 pm
LOS ANGELES — In an attempt to penalize landlords who keep units empty in the face of a growing housing crisis, the Los Angeles City Council this week ordered the preparation of a report on the number of vacant residences in the city.
City Councilman Mike Bonin made a motion in June calling for the report, along with Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Paul Koretz and David Ryu. The action is an attempt to find housing that could be used for low-income or supportive housing.
“No bed in this city should be empty when people are being forced to sleep on pavement,” Bonin said. “Empty home penalties encourage landlords to keep people housed, and they help raise needed funds to create more affordable housing. This is an important tool for addressing one of the root causes of homelessness in Los Angeles, and it is a step we desperately need to take.”
The city council voted 11-0 in favor of obtaining a report.
Based on the report, the city could look at creating penalties, vacancy taxes or speculator taxes that could be enforced on landlords. Such levies would require voter approval.
Bonin said luxury apartments are built and sold to investors, some who don’t live near Los Angeles, and kept off the market with hopes of the property value rising over time. The Housing and Community Investment Department is expected to focus part of the report on properties that are intentionally left vacant for investment purposes.
“Investors who keep housing units vacant are letting their greed contribute to a humanitarian crisis on our streets,” Bonin said. “There is no way to end our homelessness crisis without measures like this to expand opportunities for people to live in affordable housing.”
The point of the report is to “get sufficient information” before making policy suggestions, Bonin said, adding that it’s important to understand the reasons why units are left vacant.
Ryu said he doesn’t want the law to be overly punitive, but he said, “housing is for people, not investment portfolios.”
Councilman Paul Krekorian said the policies ultimately developed might include penalties or incentives for homeowners in order to abate the vacancies.
Bonin said an estimated 111,000 housing units in Los Angeles are vacant, according to Census data. Vacancy penalties already exist in some other cities.
CALIFORNIA ‘Fed up’ with homeless camps, L.A. County joins case to restore its right to clear them
By MATT STILESSTAFF WRITER – SEP. 17, 2019 4:56 PM
The case Martin vs. City of Boise prevents cities from punishing people for sleeping on the street if there aren’t enough shelter beds. L.A. County will challenge the ruling.
The Board of Supervisors has decided to throw its political weight behind an effort to overturn a court decision that has allowed homeless people to bed down overnight on sidewalks across California and the West.
On Tuesday, the supervisors voted to direct lawyers for Los Angeles County to draft an amicus brief, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a challenge to Martin vs. City of Boise. The case, decided by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last September, found that arresting or otherwise punishing homeless people for sleeping on the sidewalk when there are not enough shelter beds or housing was unconstitutional.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who authored the county’s motion, said the ruling had “tied our hands” and made serving homeless people more difficult.
“We are grappling with a problem of unprecedented scale,” she said of the nearly 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, many of them living outdoors. “Now, more than ever, it is critical that we have access to every tool at our disposal to combat homelessness.”
In addition to Barger, Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas supported the motion. Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl opposed it.
In July, attorneys Theodore B. Olson and Theane Evangelis, both with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a powerhouse law firm with offices in L.A., announced that they planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. In doing so, they cited the “urgent crisis and the public health challenge” of burgeoning homeless encampments in nine Western states.
“I became involved with this case because I cared deeply about the county’s ability to address the growing crisis,” Evangelis told the supervisors. “This crisis has reached the most urgent proportions. This is not a political issue. It is a humanitarian crisis.”
Tuesday’s meeting drew dozens of public speakers — most of them coming outagainst the county’s proposal. It was a discussion that grew heated at times. Hahn had to warn the audience, pleading for decorum. “This is not a free-for-all out there,” she said.
Those who argued against the county’s motion said the Boise ruling, as the case is commonly known, was necessary to prevent cities and counties from criminalizing homelessness.
“Arresting or citing someone who is out of options, to me, is not compassionate, and it’s not a common-sense solution,” Solis said.
Sahar Durali, an associate director of litigation and policy at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles, said she worried that overturning the federal court ruling would make it easier for local governments to arrest or ticket homeless residents, despite assurances from Barger and other county officials that their intention was to help.
“The idea that Martin will drain the county’s resources or prevent its progress is just not true,” Durali said. “This will give municipalities around the county free rein to throw people into containment camps, and we’ve seen how that’s going on the border.”
Several other people, including those speaking on behalf of the real estate industry, spoke in favor of the motion. Billie Greer, a South Park resident, praised the county’s effort to help homeless people with the hundreds of millions of tax dollars raised by Measure H.
“By taking the legal step before you, you will extend that leadership further for the benefit of the homeless,” she said. “I urge you to support this motion in support of the homeless and the public.”
Ridley-Thomas, who is co-chair of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide task force on homelessness, stayed silent during the debate, heightening the suspense about how he would vote. Advocates knew he was the swing vote and pleaded for him to take their side.
But he ultimately chose to support the amicus brief.
“I’m simply fed up. The status quo is untenable,” he said in a statement. “We need to call this what it is — a state of emergency – and refuse to resign ourselves to a reality where people are allowed to live in places not fit for human habitation. I refuse to accept this as our new normal.”
Times staff writer Gale Holland contributed to this report.
A Reseda parking lot is open for people living in their cars. So far, no complaints, councilman says
By OLGA GRIGORYANTS | email@example.com | Los Angeles Daily News PUBLISHED: August 29, 2019 at 5:42 pm | UPDATED: August 30, 2019 at 10:28 am
A Reseda parking lot is now open to homeless Angelenos who live in their cars.
Tucked between three buildings occupied by L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield’s office, the West Valley Regional Branch Library and an LAPD station, the parking lot offers a safe space for those who live in their cars.
The site has access to a bathroom and wash station. Under the program, for the past four weeks about five cars have been parking there every night.
Not everyone is allowed to stay overnight in the parking lot, though. Only participants of the “safe parking” program who signed up for its services can park their cars at the site.
The effort is a collaboration between Blumenfield’s office and a privately operated “safe parking” program that helps connect services with people who are living in their cars. In Los Angeles County, there are over 15,700 of them.
Blumenfield said he was inspired to bring the program into his district — which includes communities in the West Valley — after visiting a “safe parking” program in Koreatown about a year and a half ago with City Councilman Joe Buscaino.
“It was a good thing as one of many different ways to help with homelessness,” he said.
After talking to participants of the program, he started thinking about using a parking lot behind his office in Reseda.
“It’s a perfect location and surrounded with no residential neighborhoods,” he said, adding that so far his office has not heard any complaints from the neighbors.
“It’s a lot easier to prevent someone from falling into chronic homelessness than pulling somebody out of it,” he said. “When you have somebody who is falling into homelessness, this is the way you can catch them.”
Still, he added that the program is not a long-term solution.
“They are supposed to be there for a couple of months, get on their feet and get a safe place,” Blumenfield said.
Generally, people who are signed into the program are very appreciative, respectful and keep the area clean, Blumenfield said.
The recipients of the program usually start showing up at the parking lot around 9 p.m. No RVs are allowed to stay overnight. The program is expected to grow and possibly welcome more visitors in the future.
Comments: Frankenstien • a day ago 5 cars out of hundreds that plague our neighborhoods in the Valley. These people are the true hard luck homeless and I hope they can find help. Unfortunately the majority of people living in cars on the streets are addicts and / or mentally ill and this proves it. Most don't want to register or have rules attached to where they can live and the city barely enforcing any quality of life laws they do as the please where they please.
Oh Goody Frankenstien • a day ago I would say that most people who are living in their cars are probably not mentally ill or drug addicted. They are more likely to have lost their jobs and/or homes and are struggling to get back on their feet. After all, they were able to afford to buy, maintain, and insure a car. It sounds like it is a pretty controlled program with minimal costs, and as long as they don't cause any problems, I'm all for it. It's better than having them park on the streets.
Ghada Goeh • a day ago Wow. Compassion. I love it.
A North Hollywood homeless shelter will serve as a ‘bridge’ for those looking for housing, jobs.
By ELIZABETH CHOU | firstname.lastname@example.org -- Daily News Sept. 9, 2019
An emergency shelter with 85 beds for people experiencing homelessness will be opening in five months in the San Fernando Valley, where more than 7,000 are believed to be without a stable place to live.
For 51-year-old Charles Robertson, that could mean he will have a place to lay his head when he gets off his three part-time jobs, two which are at recycling centers and one at a warehouse.
Robertson was born in North Hollywood, and raised in a home not far from the sidewalk on Raymer Street where he now beds down. He said he and his girlfriend have been homeless “for a minute, now,” meaning that they have not had a place to stay, much less a permanent home, for much longer than they’d like.
“You know where to find me, and we’d like to be first on the list,” he said, when informed that a shelter is set to open up in a hidden-away warehouse a couple blocks up the street.
The shelter will be at 13160 Raymer St., in a warehouse that will be outfitted with six-feet-tall partitions to create 85 individual rooms, as well as a commissary, indoor and outdoor lounge areas, bathrooms, showers and a laundry room.
The 13,100-square-foot building also includes office space for social workers and case managers who will be working with people staying at the shelter to find housing and jobs, and to offer any other services they may need.
The shelter, which is estimated to cost a little over $2 million to set up, is expected to receive some money from a fund set up by Mayor Eric Garcetti, known as “A Bridge Home,” that encouraged each Los Angeles City Council member to open up a shelter to their district.
A women’s shelter in Sylmar and a temporary housing site in Canoga Park are both in the works, but the North Hollywood shelter is expected to be the first one to open its doors in the San Fernando Valley, where permanent housing options and shelter beds are scarce.
The shelter will provide a place for people in the San Fernando Valley who are living on the streets, either in tents or cars, a more stable place to start their process of looking for housing and jobs, according to Ken Craft, director of Hope of the Valley, the organization that will be operating the shelter.
Craft said that many of the people who use their day center in Van Nuys to find housing, a bite to eat and get a shower are often put on long waiting lists not just for housing, but also shelters.
“The problem is, the whole system is impacted in such a way that people end up waiting for something to open up,” he said, and meanwhile those people are still living on the streets as they try to find a good job or a landlord to willing to rent to them.
The shelter is meant only as a starting point for those who will be staying there. In addition to getting them off the streets, fed and working with social workers, “we want them also to be looking for work, trying to find a job,” Craft said. “This is a bridge. This is only temporary.”
According to Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents the area where the shelter will be opening, the search for an appropriate location was not easy. He said that they have looked at several sites, and have had to reject some because the property owner’s asking price was too high. His office worked with Craft to find the Raymer street warehouse, which happened to be ideal because it is an existing building that already has plumbing, electricity and sewage connections.
A recent change in the city’s laws also allowed the use of warehouses to be converted into an emergency shelter that would accommodate the 85 beds or more, freeing up more potential properties in the city for such uses. Previously, a warehouse like the one on Raymer street could only be used for shelters with 30 or fewer beds.
Meanwhile, city leaders have had to stay sensitive to residents who often worry about having a shelter nearby.
“Everybody in the city understandably wants more shelters to be built because it’s a critical emergency need that is obvious to everyone,” Krekorian said. “But where we put them is one of the hardest issues in getting things built, because certainly most residential neighborhoods will say build them, but don’t build them near our neighborhoods."
The shelter is in an industrial area, near the train tracks, where there are already encampments, but is also not far from a bus stop that people living in the shelter can use to get to their jobs or to do their errands.
Because the shelter is receiving funds from the mayor’s A Bridge Home initiative, it will also mean that a zone will be set up around the shelter where more sanitation crews and enforcement will be taking place to clear away encampments.
Although the expectation is that those who stay at the shelter will be able to move on to permanent housing in a few months, the number of beds will only be meeting a fraction of the demands. Krekorian said he hopes that this shelter will at least serve as a “model” for more to come.
Krekorian is also considering another site where they may be able to put in a shelter with 100 beds, on LADWP property at Tyrone Avenue, but they are still exploring whether that site will be feasible or appropriate.
Down the street from the anticipated Raymer street shelter is where Robertson said he will be waiting. He is an auto mechanic by trade, but says that it is difficult to hold onto tools. They often get stolen, because he lives on the street.
He has been able to save up the money to rent a place to live, through his recycling center and warehouse jobs. But in the meantime he could do with a shelter that can allow him to “go in and out when I want.”
Many shelters only open at night, but “because I work sometimes from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the morning,” a shelter that is also open during the day is ideal, he said. And he also would like to see one that will allow couples, and private space for his girlfriend.
“She doesn’t like hanging around a lot of people,” he said. “She just needs a place where she can go and rest her head without a bunch of people around her.”
Tags: Affordable Housinghomelesshomeless sheltersTop Stories LADN
Elizabeth Chou has reported on Los Angeles City Hall government and politics since 2013, first with City News Service, and now the Los Angeles Daily News since the end of 2016. She grew up in the Los Angeles area, and formerly a San Gabriel Valley girl. She now resides in the other Valley, and is enjoying exploring her new San Fernando environs. She previously worked at Eastern Group Publications, covering Montebello, Monterey Park, City of Commerce, and Vernon. Follow Elizabeth Chou @reporterliz
Frankenstien • 14 hours ago I just have a hard time believing a guy with 3 jobs and a girlfriend (who we assume is working as well) can't figure out a room to rent or share an apartment. There has to be underlying issues here like drugs or mental illness. Thank God they have the sense to put this in an industrial neighborhood and not near schools, parks and residences.