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Vacant housing units outnumber homeless, report says

LOS ANGELES — Two organizations that advocate for fair and affordable housing in Los Angeles have released a report that says the city has three times more vacant housing units than the number of homeless people counted this year.

Strategic Actions for a Just Economy and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment commissioned the study that found the city has 103,000 currently unoccupied units that could be used for affordable residences, and 41,000 of those units are not currently on the market.

The last count conducted by Los Angeles County released in June stated that the city has a homeless population of about 36,000.

“Knowing that our city is failing so dramatically to house people, it’s shocking to find tens of thousands of units are sitting empty, many just to fill the pockets of investors,” said Alex Ferrer of Strategic Actions, who co-authored the report released Nov. 19. “People deserve to know who owns their city and who benefits from this injustice.”

The report calls the practice of intentionally keeping housing units vacant “speculative ownership,” which is the process of buying up properties and then leaving them vacant in hopes that their value will increase over time, sort of like managing a stock except with residences.

“Thousands of luxury condominiums across the city are empty, owned as second homes or pure investments, with more corporate owners than full-time residents,” the report states.

According to the report, 41% of all residential property in the city is directly owned by corporate entities and includes 22 square miles of vacant lots.

“With only a tiny fraction of people having investments of any kind, this massive concentration of ownership represents a speculative property market set up to make a profit for the few, rather than to the benefit of all,” the report says. “Worse, the lack of financial disclosure requirements that apply to corporate property owners, and the ease of creating shell companies, means that it is impossible to really know who benefits from buying up Los Angeles.”

The report, titled “Who’s Buying Los Angeles? How Speculative Finance Keeps Houses Vacant and People Unhoused,” was unveiled in front of a luxury condominium complex, built on public land, that the organizations say is more than 75% unoccupied.

In September, the Los Angeles City Council moved forward with creating a new law, named the Empty House Penalty. The council directed staff to first report on identifying vacant homes and units and what penalties should be applied when they’re not used.

In their report, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment supported a measure that would tax owners of vacant units. One of the ways to apply penalties, the organizations said, could be to monitor Department of Water and Power utility meters to verify if someone is living there.

Wave Wire Services