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Measure HHH in CD 13 - Homeless Up, Supportive Housing Down

EASTSIDER-Like the little boy putting his finger in the dike to hold back the ocean, it looks like CD 13 has come up with another project to spend HHH money with years till completion, bags of money involved, and little effect on homelessness. 

Here are the details. Back in February, Fernando Chacon from the El Centro Del Pueblo came to a Neighborhood Council Meeting to complain that Council District 13, with little notice, had told them the City lease on their playground for the kids would not be renewed. 

Instead, that parcel and another owned by the City was going to be repurposed as part of the homeless housing initiative. I sent off a Public Records Request for information and received the information this month. 

The Process 

It turns out that back in May of last year (2018), CD 13 made a Motion, which stated in pertinent part: 

In furthering the above efforts, there are two City-owned properties located at APN 5404016900 and APN 504016901 in Council District 13 which may be suitable for development as permanent supportive housing to help address the City’s homelessness and housing crisis.” 

That’s it. Thereafter, on May 22, 2018, a Homelessness and Poverty Committee Report was issued, which directed the CAO/CLA, Bureau of Engineering, Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, and any other affected City stakeholders, to initiate reviews of these properties “to determine the suitability for development as permanent supportive housing.” 

From there, the Council quietly adopted the report (unanimously) in June, and its recommendation to determine the suitability for development. Three single page documents that tell us virtually nothing.

You gotta love the City. 

The Plot Thickens 

Cut to February 2019, and suddenly we have a 6-page document imposingly titled, “Echo Park Supportive Housing - Pre-Design Services Work Order No. E1908504 - Task Order Solicitation No. 52. Whatever that means. 

Buried in the document is this whopper: 

A successful design will bridge the intent to provide the maximum allowable number of affordable dwelling units while creating similar but re-envisioned amenities that will be available to both the participants of the local recreational program and also to the public.” 

The solicitation then goes on to describe a number of ways to twist existing planning regs to “maximize” the number of units. They can get from 74 “by right” units up to 100 units through careful manipulation. This part is worth a read in itself. Developer 101. 

And by the way, the consulting agreement is worth $50,000. 

What’s It All Mean? 

Back when voters were being asked to pass Measure HHH, here is what the so-called Impartial Analysis on the Ballot said about housing: 

After extensive analysis and working in cooperation with the County of Los Angeles, LAHSA and the non-profit community, the City adopted the Comprehensive Homeless Strategy on February 9, 2016. The strategy determined that 13,000 units of new housing, including 10,000 units of supportive housing, are needed at an estimated cost exceeding $1 billion to house the homeless. The City’s strategy incorporates the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) and LAHSA’s position that providing stable housing to a homeless individual prior to providing needed services is more effective at resolving homelessness compared to offering services without guaranteed housing. Development of this housing requires a dedicated revenue source since the City does not have the funding capacity in its current operating budget. 

And here’s what they said about homeless temporary projects: 

Temporary shelter facilities, storage facilities, shower facilities and other facilities to be used by the City, other public entities, non-profit entities and/or private entities to provide supportive services or goods to, or otherwise benefit, those who are homeless, chronically homeless or at risk of homelessness; 

So, how’s that working out?  

I can do no better than looking at the March 28, 2019 Homeless Strategy Committee Meeting, which is the big-time City oversight group. Present were the CAO, the Chief Legislative Analyst, Wendy Greuel (Commissioner, Office of the Mayor), and David Giron (standing in for Mitch O’Farrell’s Homelessness & Poverty Committee). 

The minutes reveal that there were 14 other attendees, that the meeting lasted just south of one hour, and that no action was taken on anything, other than approving the minutes and forwarding a report to the Council. That’s it. 

If you really believe that this group of heavy hitters actually sat around on their collective asses and did nothing for almost an hour, I’ll sell you the 6th Street bridge for $100 bucks. This demonstrates the real Measure HHH. 

The Takeaway 

A couple of things are becoming crystal clear. First, it takes years to actually build HHH housing, even though it’s on City owned property, which is essentially thrown in free. Second, most of this housing isn’t even for the homeless, and it’s running around $400,000 per unit. 

Using the Echo Park HHH project example, it is over a year old, and has only moved as far as putting out bids for $50,000 in consulting fees to select a vendor to begin an actual project. 

Meanwhile, over the same year period, as reported in the LA Times, the homeless population in LA City has increased by 16% over last year.  

And as USA Today reported, 

“Amid an outcry over swelling numbers of homeless people, Los Angeles County public health officials are urging LA city to take action to provide basic sanitation -- toilets, handwashing stations and rat extermination -- for thousands of people living on the streets.” 

Amen. 

The only ray of hope that I see is that our City Controller, Ron Galperin, is finally taking the gloves off and preparing to Audit this entire mess. You can read all about it here.   

As Galperin himself stated, "The number one priority has to be to find a way to get people off the street . . . Building units that we're not going to see for years and years at a cost of $400,000 to $500,000 per door is not working." 

I second the sentiment. One can only hope that the Controller does a thorough and honest job. With this context in mind, I say to Council District 13, how about saving the money, scrap the project, and spend it on something that will actually produce a quick result for the rapidly increasing homeless population?

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.