Councilman Kevin De Leon calls for 25,000 units for LA’s homeless by 2025

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin De Leon unveiled a plan on Tuesday, Jan. 12, aimed at creating 25,000 dwelling units by 2025 for people experiencing homelessness, saying that local officials need to follow a “North Star” when addressing the city’s housing  crisis.

De Leon, who first took office last October, said the current pace of housing people experiencing homelessness has not met the needs of the “crisis that’s unfolding on our city streets every single day.”

“It’s not acceptable,” he said in a conference call Tuesday morning.

An estimated 41,000 people were homeless in the city, as of last January. In recent years, city and county leaders have scrambled to find them shelter. Dozens of permanent housing projects and shelters have been built or are in the pipeline, only for public officials to be overwhelmed by the growing number of people falling into homeless each year.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to record unemployment numbers and plunged the economy into a recession, is expected to exacerbate the homelessness crisis.

De Leon said there needs to be a “clearly defined objective and timeline” to address homelessness, and a way for “the people we represent to hold us accountable for delivering results.”

“Our North Star must be a goal around which everyone …. city, county, state and federal partners, community-based organizations, our business community as well, where we all organize and work to achieve what is real, what is within our reach to provide dignity and respect to so many of our unhoused family members, loved ones and neighbors,” he said in a Zoom call discussing the plan.

De Leon was expected to introduce a set of nine motions during Tuesday’s council meeting that would set forward a plan, which he named “A Way Home,” that would help in reaching the goal of 25,000 units.

He said the plan he envisions would include “a comprehensive overhaul of outdated, cumbersome city polices and regulations that impede our ability to construct the thousands of safe and affordable housing units we need for our unhoused neighbors living on our streets today.”

Sam Tsemberis, a champion of the “housing first” model that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, said this was the “first time I’ve heard a number that actually meets the magnitude of the problem.”

He said he believes the city has failed in past efforts to house people because sights have been set too modestly.

“One of the reasons that Los Angeles in particular has not really reached the tipping point, where we’re still creating homelessness at a much higher level than we’re ending it, is because many of the plans, previous to this have not been of the right scale,” Tsemberis said.

The goal of creating 25,000 units “in a short time-frame is exactly the scale we need to actually put a dent in ending street homelessness or emergency homelessness,” he said.

Past goals set in Los Angeles have included a pledge by each of the city’s 15 council members to help move forward 200 permanent supportive housing units in their districts, or 3,000 units citywide. Public officials had initially hoped to create 10,000 units through Proposition HHH, a bond measure to issue $1.2 billion for the construction housing, but have fallen short by several thousand.

Local homeless services officials last summer also set an ambitious goal of temporarily sheltering 15,000 people in hotels, to address the needs of people who do not have a place to “shelter” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, homeless services officials reached about a third of that goal, but they were able to do much more in a shorter amount of time due to the influx of emergency funding made available during the pandemic.

Local officials have also tinkered with the process for streamlining housing, including approving measures to clear away red tape and speed up the conversion of motels into shelters and construction of permanent supportive housing. Some of those efforts have faced legal challenges and other hurdles.

The L.A. Homeless Services Authority recently began piloting a “housing central command” program that would streamline and better coordinate the placement of people into housing, to overcome problems such as services officials sometimes being unaware of available, affordable housing sitting and empty after someone moves out.

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The 25,000-unit housing goal also comes about five years after city leaders — including Mayor Eric Garcetti and then-City Council President Herb Wesson — stood on the steps outside City Hall to announce that the city to set aside $100 million to tackle homelessness and expressed the desire to end the homelessness crisis, four years after the county approved a comprehensive plan to reduce homelessness, and three years following the passage of Proposition HHH.

The estimated number of people experiencing homelessness has nearly doubled since 2015, when there were more than 25,000 people were homeless in the city of Los Angeles, compared to the more than 41,000 estimated from the January 2020 count, five years later.

Last year, a group called the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights sued city and county officials, accusing them of dragging their feet on addressing the city’s homelessness crisis.

On Tuesday, a think tank released a report projecting that more 600,000 working adults across the country will become homeless by 2023 as the result of the current recession, of which 52,300 will be in Los Angeles County.

That report also noted that 85% of the national number would be people who are couch-surfing, while in Los Angeles County those who would be couch-surfing is projected to be 64%.

The countywide homeless count that is reported by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority does not include people who are couch-surfing, because it follows the definition of homelessness set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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