LOS ANGELES — Standing on a blighted and sprawling piece of vacant land owned by the city of Los Angeles, LA Controller Ron Galperin called on city leaders to use government-owned properties to house people experiencing homelessness.
“We need a lot more permanent housing, but also, we need more temporary and interim housing and shelter options,” Galperin said Wednesday. “Much more, and more than anything else, what we need is leadership to get on the same page and to actually make progress on this because the status quo is not working anymore, as we all know.”
Combatting the twin crises of unaffordable housing and homelessness in LA has been slow going, despite billions of dollars in spending. Since 2019, Galperin’s office has been monitoring the progress of Prop HHH, the voter-approved $1.2 billion bond measure designed to build 10,000 units of housing to help reduce homelessness in the city. Earlier this year, Galperin reported that just 1,142 units had so far been built and were ready for occupancy at an average cost of $600,000 per unit.
All the while, homelessness has been increasing. Since 2016, when LA voters approved Prop HHH, the city’s unhoused population has grown 45%. According to the last count from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 41,290 people experienced homelessness in 2020. The most recent count taken earlier this year hasn’t yet been released but is expected to reveal the problem is only getting worse.
“That’s why we’re here today because we have to continue to build more permanent supportive housing. The city is doing so, albeit very expensively and taking a long time to do it,” Galperin said, noting that Prop HHH housing is taking three to six years to build. “We need to use the available space we have at our disposal to help alleviate homelessness.”
Galperin delivered his remarks from a 394,000-square-foot vacant property on S. Clovis Avenue in South Los Angeles. The parcel is one of 26 available pieces of land Galperin’s office identified in January that are owned by the city and could house and provide services to homeless individuals. Combined, the properties have 1.7 million square feet of space that could be used for various types of housing, including tiny home villages, safe parking and sleeping areas, as well as restrooms, showers and laundry facilities.
Galperin’s office selected the 26 properties from 8,000 city-owned parcels. The properties it is recommending were selected because they met various criteria, such as having a minimum size of 20,000 square feet and being designated as unused and therefore able to be repurposed immediately. His office also conducted site visits to each recommended property to ensure their viability to be repurposed quickly and at a low cost for homeless housing and services.
“They are unused, they are vacant and they should be put to use,” Galperin said.
The recommended properties include 121,000 square feet on S. Western Avenue, 96,000 square feet on N. San Fernando Road and a 25,000-square-foot parking lot on S. Pisani Place.
Galperin’s office also recommends the former LA Police Department headquarters across the street from City Hall in downtown Los Angeles be flagged for review and potential use because of its proximity to Skid Row, where 11% of LA’s homeless population lives. Properties owned by the Los Angeles World Airports, including some underutilized parking lots, could also provide opportunities, Galperin said.
Wednesday’s event comes just a few days after Los Angeles City Council approved a legal settlement with the Los Angeles Alliance for Human Rights for the city to spend $3 billion over the next five years to develop up to 16,000 housing units for people experiencing homelessness.
“For decades, we’ve been saying that homelessness is a crisis. It’s an emergency, and then we yawn and go to bed,” said Ken Craft. The Chief Executive of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission has been the driving force behind many of the tiny home villages that have sprung up around LA over the past year. “At this time, I’ve never seen more movement from the city, from the state, from the federal government to say we must address this issue. We must come up with interventions that work now.”
Hope of the Valley is running at least half a dozen tiny home villages from Tarzana to Highland Park. Comprised of small prefab units that measure 8 feet by 8 feet and can be assembled in an hour, they have two beds, air conditioning and heating, electrical outlets for charging a phone and a lock on the door.
“When I look at a piece of property like this, I see the potential for us to truly impact Los Angeles, bringing LA indoors while we continue to build permanent housing,” Craft said of the land on S. Clovis.
Galperin’s office anticipates per-unit permanent housing costs could soon reach $900,000, which is why he is advocating for a reallocation of Prop HHH funds to projects that cost less and provide more immediate interim housing for individuals experiencing homelessness.
“Los Angeles, like most cities in California, faces the dual crisis of homelessness and affordable housing,” said Ekta Naik, vice president of development for Sola Impact, which develops high-quality, affordable housing for people of color in South LA. Sola Impact currently operates 1,500 units in the area and is building another 1,500 that should be ready for occupancy in two years.
Naik said 98% of Sola’s tenants are racial minorities. Two-thirds are low income. One in three has experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
Sola recently opened a project on Avalon Boulevard and another, last week, on 92nd Street in Compton that cost less than $230,000 per unit. Naik said Sola is able to keep costs low, using standardized floor plans and the same doors, faucets and other materials for its buildings.
“This is not easy,” Naik said. “We need all the help that we can get, literally from each and every one of you. We need partners. We need advocates. We need ambassadors. We need our investors, our politicians, various city departments. We need Republicans and we need Democrats. We need red, blue, but also white and black and brown to all come together to bring much-needed quality affordable housing to South LA as fast as humanly possible.”