Bumpy roll­out for L.A. hous­ing ser­vices

Fac­ing set­backs on fund­ing and sup­port, city spent only half of $138 mil­lion bud­geted for home­less relief.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Gale Hol­land and Dakota Smith

Con­fronted with surg­ing home­less­ness, Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti and sev­eral City Coun­cil mem­bers gath­ered at City Hall’s steps in Septem­ber 2015 to de­clare that the sit­u­a­tion had turned into a cri­sis.

They pledged to spend $100 mil­lion to aid those liv­ing in en­camp­ments and shel­ters, de­spite un­cer­tainty over where the funds would come from.

Home­less ad­vo­cates praised the an­nounce­ment, which drew na­tional head­lines and put pres­sure on po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to find the money.

Months later, Garcetti went even fur­ther, un­veil­ing a bud­get for 2016-17 that promised an un­prece­dented $138 mil­lion for home­less­ness.

As the fis­cal year en­ters its fi­nal month, the city has spent about half that fig­ure — roughly $65 mil­lion — on ser­vices and pro­grams for home­less peo­ple, in­clud­ing hous­ing, shel­ter beds and out­reach work­ers.

The rest of the bud­geted amount, Garcetti and aides say, comes from city prop­erty that has been set aside for sale or de­vel­op­ment of home­less and low-in­come hous­ing. But none of the land has been sold, nor have any fi­nal de­vel­op­ment agree­ments been reached to build hous­ing.

The 2016-17 spend­ing plan marked the be­gin­ning of an ag­gres­sive new ap­proach by city lead­ers to tackle home­less­ness — one that will see more money di­rected to­ward the prob­lem in com­ing years, thanks to a voter­ap­proved bond mea­sure.

But the roll­out was bumpy: Com­mu­nity op­po­si­tion thwarted some planned home­less pro­grams, while Garcetti’s plan to raise millions from a de­vel­op­ment tax was never ap­proved.

Th­ese set­backs re­flect

the po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic chal­lenges in­her­ent in tack­ling en­trenched home­less­ness, which has wors­ened over the last year. L.A.’s home­less pop­u­la­tion grew 20% this year, to more than 34,000, ac­cord­ing to sur­vey re­sults re­leased Wed­nes­day.

The mayor ex­pressed frus­tra­tion this week at how long it is tak­ing for bud­geted funds to make a dent in the prob­lem.

“Am I happy about the pace?” Garcetti said at a news con­fer­ence out­lin­ing the new home­less­ness num­bers. “How can we look out­side and any­body be happy with the pace?”

The mayor’s of­fice said in a state­ment that more than 9,000 peo­ple were housed last year. As for the $138-mil­lion bud­get, may­oral spokesman Alex Comisar said the “city has al­ready spent or im­ple­mented a ma­jor­ity of those funds, and we are putting the rest into ac­tion as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of Garcetti’s bud­get for home­less­ness in­volves real es­tate. The bud­get an­tic­i­pated the sale or de­vel­op­ment of eight city-owned parcels, which had an ap­praised value of $47 mil­lion. The mayor in­cluded that amount in the $138 mil­lion be­cause home­less and low-in­come peo­ple will live in the units.

Garcetti on Wed­nes­day de­fended that bud­get­ing ma­neu­ver and said new ap­praisals showed the land was worth even more than pre­vi­ously es­ti­mated. City bud­get of­fi­cials say just five of the parcels — those deemed most likely to be de­vel­oped — are now val­ued at $72 mil­lion.

The mayor is tak­ing the same ap­proach in next year’s bud­get for home­less­ness, in­clud­ing 17 city prop­er­ties val­ued at $46 mil­lion that will be re­viewed for de­vel­op­ment.

Mark Ryavec, pres­i­dent of the Venice Stake­hold­ers Assn., crit­i­cized Garcetti for in­clud­ing un­sold, un­de­vel­oped land in his spend­ing plans, call­ing it “smoke and mir­rors.”

Ryavec called for more im­me­di­ate relief for his com­mu­nity, where en­camp­ments line the beaches and res­i­dents see home­less peo­ple sleep­ing in their drive­ways.

One ma­jor rev­enue source in Garcetti’s bud­get never panned out. The mayor counted on $20 mil­lion from a so-called link­age fee — a pop­u­lar fi­nanc­ing tool that cities such as San Diego and San Fran­cisco have used to de­velop af­ford­able hous­ing.

Laura Guglielmo, ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at the city’s Hous­ing and Com­mu­nity In­vest­ment De­part­ment, es­ti­mates that the $20 mil­lion could have helped build 160 to 200 units of new, af­ford­able hous­ing.

“It would have been su­per-help­ful,” Guglielmo said. “The big­ger pot of money, the more hous­ing we can de­velop.”

Al­though Garcetti’s ap­pointees on the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion ap­proved the fee pro­posal in Fe­bru­ary, the City Coun­cil has yet to take it up.

Some coun­cil mem­bers are con­cerned the fee would drive up hous­ing costs, said Coun­cil­man Mar­queece Har­ris-Daw­son, who chairs the Home­less and Poverty Com­mit­tee.

In an­other set­back to the plans laid out in the bud­get a year ago, com­mu­nity op­po­si­tion de­railed new stor­age fa­cil­i­ties for home­less peo­ple. San Pe­dro res­i­dents fought a fa­cil­ity pro­posed near an ele­men­tary school, while an­other planned for Venice also faced re­sis­tance. Plans to pro­vide mo­bile show­ers have been de­layed as well.

Though those pro­pos­als rep­re­sented a rel­a­tively small ex­pen­di­ture — about $2 mil­lion — the fa­cil­i­ties would have given Los An­ge­les po­lice more li­cense to break up sprawl­ing en­camp­ments, ac­cord­ing to a Fe­bru­ary re­port on the city’s home­less­ness strat­egy.

Those shan­ty­towns have in­censed city res­i­dents from Wilm­ing­ton to Tu­junga, fu­el­ing much of the sup­port for Propo­si­tion HHH, the $1.2-bil­lion bond mea­sure that vot­ers ap­proved in Novem­ber.

City Coun­cil­man Mike Bonin sup­ports the stor­age cen­ter pro­gram and is lead­ing ef­forts to put a cen­ter in his Venice dis­trict. He also sup­ports the city’s push for more hous­ing.

“I’ve had plenty of out­reach in my dis­trict,” Bonin said. “There are only so many times you can give some­body a McDon­ald’s gift card. Where can we give folks a place to put their head down that night?”

Of the $65 mil­lion that has been spent, the largest share — more than $50 mil­lion — went to the Los An­ge­les Home­less Ser­vices Author­ity.

But that wind­fall had a de­lay­ing ef­fect of its own: The agency had to spend months gear­ing up its op­er­a­tions as it ex­panded its reach, slow­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of rent vouch­ers and other more im­me­di­ate home­less­ness relief.

City Coun­cil­man Jose Huizar said he had is­sues with the bud­get ap­proved a year ago, say­ing in a re­cent in­ter­view that it was “pre­ma­ture” to count on the $20 mil­lion from the stalled link­age fee. He also ques­tioned whether a sub­sidy of city land can be counted as a bud­get ex­pen­di­ture.

But in the end he voted to ap­prove the plan be­cause it pushed the is­sue of home­less­ness —a f lash­point in his dis­trict, which in­cludes skid row — to the fore­front.

“I wasn’t wholly sat­is­fied that it was new money, but I loved the fact that they made a com­mit­ment,” Huizar said. “I was elated that the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship had done more.”

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

A LAND­MARK $138-mil­lion L.A. city spend­ing plan for fight­ing home­less­ness has so far faced dif­fi­cul­ties in its im­ple­men­ta­tion. Above, a Pomona shel­ter.

Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

AT A NEWS con­fer­ence on L.A.’s home­less count, Mayor Eric Garcetti ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at how long it’s tak­ing for bud­geted funds to make a dent.

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