Los Angeles’ homeless crisis is only worsening, according to a bombshell report, but city politicians feed the public dubious explanations and refuse to acknowledge their own culpability. As increasing numbers of men, women and children are forced into the streets, City Hall’s shirking of its responsibilities will not help L.A.’s vulnerable residents.
Soon after the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority released its shocking homeless count in late May, L.A. politicians quickly ducked and rolled. They conveniently, and superficially, cited soaring rents and a lack of affordable housing units as the underlying causes of a staggering 20 precent increase in the city’s count and a 23 percent bump in the county. Among homeless youth, the number skyrocketed 61 percent from just last year.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said in reaction to the spiking homeless crisis, “We can’t let rents double every year.”
But amid the public outrage, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Garcetti failed to cite the true root causes of skyrocketing rents and vanishing affordable units: Their own policies and lack of action.
Tim Redmond, of 48 Hills, a San Francisco-based news site, was one of the rare California journalists to pinpoint the uncomfortable truth about one root cause that the Bay Area shares with L.A. On May 29, he wrote: “So we are losing affordable housing almost as fast as we can build it. For every ten new units we build, the city loses almost seven to eviction.”
L.A. journalists have not tracked housing data with the consistency and dedication of Bay Area journalists such as Redmond. We do know, according to city records and a year-old report by the Los Angeles Times, that from 2001-2016 more than 20,000 rent-controlled units in L.A. were eliminated from the market.
The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a Bay Area-based nonprofit, is tracking the eviction frenzy in cities from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It mapped the wiping out of 21,494 affordable housing units in Los Angeles through evictions from 2001-2017.
The L.A. media and City Hall politicians, however, have largely ignored the nonprofit’s research. Why? Because it reveals an ugly truth that L.A. leaders don’t want the public to know: The loss of affordable housing units, fueled by City Hall’s policies and failures to act, is helping to drive the homeless crisis.
Until L.A. politicians stop openly encouraging their poorly reasoned, campaign-cash driven, gentrification craze — which in turn prods landlords to evict longtime tenants to cash in on areas deemed “hot” by City Hall policies — Los Angeles will continue to see a skyrocketing homeless crisis.
Skid Row, East Los Angeles, Hollywood and South Los Angeles are examples of areas where gentrification urged on by L.A. planning department officials and elected leaders is unfolding.
Claudia Medina, director of affirmative litigation at the Eviction Defense Network, said, “The dwindling supply of affordable units is a factor contributing to the increase in homeless rates. As developers continue to tear down affordable and rent-controlled apartments to make way for luxury apartments, there are less rental units that low-income families, and individuals can afford, pushing families out of the rental market and on to the streets.”
Janet Denise Kelly, of Sanctuary of Hope in South Los Angeles, said, “The 23 percent rise in homelessness should make everyone pause and take action on strategies to keep neighborhoods affordable, such as land banking, community trusts, and inclusionary zoning.”
Rev. Alice Callaghan, founder and director of the Skid Row family services nonprofit Las Familias del Pueblo, said, “Because of their promotion of unbridled gentrification, City Hall can only blame itself that the poor of Los Angeles now sleep in tents and cardboard boxes on sidewalks throughout this city. It will take decades and billions of dollars to replace the housing already lost, let alone replace the thousands of units that will continue to disappear annually.”
Yet in the City Council and mayor’s official reports on how to fight the homeless crisis, city leaders never point at their own behavior in fueling land-flipping, land speculation and unjust evictions.
For example, city leaders claim that voter approval last November of Measure JJJ will help ease L.A.’s affordable housing and homeless crises. The initiative, politicians say publicly, offers Transit-Oriented Community guidelines in which bonuses and incentives are given to luxury housing developers who add modest amounts of low-income housing.
But an eye-popping study by University of California-Berkeley reveals that such transit-oriented development can easily contribute to displacement.
“Overall, we find that TOD (transit-oriented development) has a significant impact on the stability of the surrounding neighborhood, leading to increases in housing costs that change the composition of the area, including the loss of low-income households,” the independent study notes.
To make matters worse, a key to implementing L.A.’s new TOD/TOC plans is “re:code LA,” a city program to “update” zoning codes. But the codes could easily set off further land speculation, land-flipping and unmitigated gentrification and homeless spikes. In other words, L.A. politicians, who have accepted $6 million in campaign cash from developers since the early 2000s, continue to meet developers’ desires, not residents’.
As Callaghan, Medina and others note, the relaxing of environmental rules to encourage hundreds of new luxury buildings with a smidgen of affordable units doesn’t secure the affordable housing needed. Instead, it sets off rent-raising and evictions by landlords near each new luxury building.
As the planning department and L.A. politicians embark on updating the General Plan and community plans, the problems of gentrification, eviction, homelessness and loss of inexpensive rentals must be evaluated in each community — and real solutions must be implemented.
For example, in the 2016-17 budget, according to the L.A. Times, Mayor Eric Garcetti set aside $138 million to stem homelessness. Yet the city has only spent half of the money.
The Times reported: “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.”
Mayor Garcetti’s proposed new linkage fee on developers — if the City Council approves it — combined with stiffer city rules for replacing rent-controlled units may provide some relief. But more than anything, planning department officials and L.A. politicians need to alter their own behavior. As of now, city leaders are fueling — not reducing — the homeless crisis.