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Officials seek solutions to housing crisis at summit

LOS ANGELES — Speaking at a summit of regional leaders Nov. 22, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the housing affordability crisis in the state has put the California Dream in peril, but he expressed optimism in efforts to increase housing stock and tackle the homelessness problem.

“Where we have failed the most is with housing,” Garcetti said during the 2019 Annual Mayoral Housing, Transportation and Jobs Summit at UCLA.

“It has changed the most dramatically in my lifetime. That [California] dream has turned to fitless sleep or a nightmare for many of us.”

Garcetti outlined the city’s efforts to streamline the process of building permanent supportive housing, noting a recent City Council vote to exempt supportive housing from environmental reviews and efforts to speed the issuance of building permits. He also said he is working with the Department of Water and Power to get similar waivers for projects on land the utility oversees.

“We have our work cut out for us, but this is a fight worth fighting,” Garcetti said during the event hosted by the Los Angeles Business Council. “The California Dream endures from generation to generation, but how it manifests changes. This should be a place of opportunity and belonging.”

Garcetti said rents in the city have increased an average of 25% since 2013, but incomes have increased an average of 10%. He said 29% of the city’s residents spend half of their income on housing and six in 10 people spend 30%.

He insisted the city housed people faster in the past year than it ever has, but it hasn’t kept pace with the number of people falling into homelessness at the same time.

Garcetti told the crowd the city is seeing success at transit-oriented communities that combine market-rate apartments with affordable units, and he said his office will soon hold interviews for positions on a Housing Element Task Force that will update the city’s housing policies and goals for the next decade.

Following his remarks, Garcetti took part in a panel discussion on the housing issue with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Steinberg said the only way cities can achieve their housing goals is by getting the state Legislature to pass laws enabling municipalities to speed up the process of getting housing projects built.

Ridley-Thomas suggested that Gov. Gavin Newsom should declare a statewide state of emergency on the homelessness issue, but cities need to look at immediate ways to get people off the streets instead of focusing on long-term projects.

“The governor has made it clear that we own this issue, and there’s no way of getting around that,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I think we need to move beyond the rhetoric of thinking outside of the box and act like we have a crisis of consequence that confronts us, not only in Los Angeles but across the state.”

Garcetti said his plans going forward include getting a “right-to-shelter” law in place, which would force the government to open shelters on public property for those who need it, and to increase funding for shelters and permanent housing that have supportive services available on-site.

He also reiterated a statistic that showed the city housed 21,000 people last year, more than double the number of 2017.

Garcetti also blamed cuts to health care services and housing by the state and federal governments for exacerbating the problem.

Schaaf said her city has started to put in temporary cabin shelters, similar to tiny homes, and they have generally been accepted by her constituents. Schaaf said the cost of the small cabins is about half that of a temporary shelter that would house the same number of people. She said her city also expanded its overnight RV and car parking lots.

The discussion came just days after a survey was released finding that voters in Los Angeles County don’t think the taxes they pay for housing for the homeless are going to good use.

According to that survey by Hart Research, 22% of surveyed voters said the money provided by Proposition HHH and the county’s Measure H ballot measures, which combined to fund more than $1.5 billion for permanent supportive housing, is being spent effectively. But 58% said they would be willing to renew the funding or have it expanded.

The poll surveyed 901 county voters and asked them questions on various topics related to homelessness. In total, 95% of them view homelessness as a problem, and a majority of them said they feel sorry for the unhoused.

People surveyed said they were not confident in their civic leaders’ ability to address the problem, with 36% saying they were optimistic, 22% said they’re not sure and 41% said they were pessimistic.

A report Nov. 21 from the McKinsey Global Institute reported that the city’s lack of affordable housing is decreasing the county’s overall gross domestic product by $32 billion to $36 billion each year. The report stated that although the city leads California in housing production, 9% of housing built in the last five years has been on the market for people earning below the average median income.

Wave Wire Services