Homeless and Housed Clash in California

May 18, 2018

California’s homeless population has a been in the news a lot this past year. From the Annual Homeless Assessment Report issued in December, 2017 – California’s homeless population is made up of over 134,000 people.

Most recently, there has been a lawsuit filed by the residents of Venice against the City of Los Angeles over laws enacted by City Council intended to ease requirements for sheltering homeless people. These laws “slash parking requirements and allow permanent supportive housing projects to be built taller or denser than otherwise allowed” as well as “eases the way for motels to be converted temporarily into housing”.

Two cases were filed on May 11, 2018: Fight Back Venice v. City of Los Angeles and Oxford Triangle Association v. City of Los Angeles. Both be tracked for updates on Westlaw. The complaints cite the California Environmental Quality Act and demand that the new homeless sheltering laws be set aside and subject to the review process.

Other Los Angeles reporters described the programs at issue in the complaint, while they were before city council, as: “focus[ing] on the creation of new housing through the construction and creative reuse of existing buildings,” further going on to say:

One of the ordinances would cut down on red tape for new developments that include supportive housing affordable to low-income residents. The other would allow owners of LA motels to convert the structures into badly needed housing.

A recent city report found that LA is home to more than 10,000 motel rooms, and that many of the city’s 382 motels are old or in disrepair. Refashioning motels to house the homeless would be relatively easy, and the new rules allow property owners to easily obtain the approvals necessary to do so.

The resulting units will be offered as temporary housing for the homeless or as supportive housing, which, on top of affordability requirements, must include onsite services like counseling and substance abuse treatment. Motel owners will be responsible for working with local agencies to provide residents with services and rental subsidies.

The other ordinance, which focuses on new construction of supportive housing, streamlines the approval process for such projects, to save developers time and money.

Supporters of the plan say it will be a key part of ensuring the successful implementation of Measure HHH, which Los Angeles voters approved in 2016. The $1.2 billion initiative is expected to result in construction of 10,000 supportive housing units over the next decade.

While the laws enacted by city council allow for motels to be converted into temporary housing, recent, local news articles out of other counties in California address less than ideal treatment of the homeless tenants. The articles describe the experience and lawsuits of some homeless residents following the clearing of the Homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River.

Legal Aid Society of Orange County represents seven disabled homeless people, including Teasley, in one of two lawsuits filed over the clearing of the tent encampments. Lawyers for the organization said in a Feb. 20 court filing that, beyond the indignity of a stripped room, they were concerned about the absence of a telephone.

“The lack of access to a telephone also has the potential to put these individuals’ health and safety at risk, as they would be unable to call for help with transportation or food, or even to call 911 in case of an emergency,” reads the court document submitted to U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, who brokered the plan under which the county is providing motel rooms for a minimum of 30 days.

On a statewide level, currently, California Supportive Housing Development Act (CA Govt § 65583) is the subject of proposed legislative amendments from the California 2017-2018 Regular session. Assembly Members Chiu and Daly introduced the amendments, which passed through the Committee on Appropriations on May 16, 2018.

Watching how California and its cities address the ongoing, ever-increasing homelessness situation will be interesting and worthwhile as it may influence and guide other states with similar issues.  It will also be interesting to see how some of the litigation surrounding the treatment of homeless people using the motel accommodations pans out in light of the new ordinances and laws being enacted throughout the state.

Image source: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

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