In the nation’s second largest city, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council have quietly perverted a much-needed housing program for homeless men, women, and children. It’s a major scandal, but affordable housing advocates and the Los Angeles Times are saying next to nothing.
Los Angeles is currently facing one of its worst homeless crises in recent memory. It’s so bad, the Times reported, that L.A. has the highest number of unsheltered homeless people in the entire United States.
As a 2013 mayoral candidate, Garcetti told an audience of affordable housing advocates that he would end homelessness. Now, in 2017, he essentially backed off that campaign promise, saying that homelessness was a “long-term crisis” that needed “long-term solutions.”
One of those solutions was a $1.2 billion bond initiative to build homeless housing, known as Measure HHH. Voters overwhelming approved it in November 2016.
Another was a kind of pilot project for Measure HHH, known as the Affordable Housing Opportunity Sites (AHOS) program. It will utilize several city-owned properties on the Westside and in Lincoln Heights and South L.A., among other locations, to build more housing.
The L.A. Times has described AHOS as a program that will build “permanent supportive housing,” which specifically caters to the homeless and provides important services.
The paper also reported that Garcetti and the City Council “spent months developing plans for converting as many as 12 city-owned sites [through the AHOS program] into housing for the city’s homeless residents.”
Garcetti, City Council President Herb Wesson, and other council members also used their time to campaign against a development reform initiative called Measure S. It sought to fix L.A.’s severely broken planning and land-use system, which numerous critics say has fueled the city’s homeless crisis.
To get L.A.’s liberal voters to vote down Measure S, Garcetti and council members repeatedly said the initiative would stop the city from building homeless housing through the AHOS program.
In a January interview on the local ABC TV affiliate, for example, Garcetti said that “nine out of the 10 (AHOS) properties, the city’s going to build housing for the homeless on, couldn’t be built if Measure S gets passed.”
City Hall politicians regularly linked the AHOS program to homeless housing — and to Measure HHH, which voters expect Garcetti and the City Council to use for homeless housing, not something else.
But only weeks after Measure HHH was approved on November 8, the betrayal of the homeless — and L.A. voters — was well underway at the hands of Garcetti, the City Council, and the City Administrative Officer.
In December 2016, the City Council approved the final details of the AHOS program, which was organized by the City Administrative Officer with much input from the City Council and mayor. It had turned into something startlingly different from what City Hall politicians had been promising — and what the L.A. Times had been describing.
The City Administrative Officer recommended, and the City Council approved, an AHOS program that now offered “affordable multifamily housing,” “mixed-income housing,” “affordable homeownership,” “innovative methods of housing,” and, finally, “permanent supportive housing” for the homeless.
Shockingly, the AHOS was not solely a homeless housing program anymore.
The City Administrative Officer also recommended that it enter into negotiations with developers who have proposed a “mix of supportive, affordable, and market-rate units.” Again, the City Council approved.
On December 7, 2016, at a meeting for the City Council’s Homeless and Poverty Committee, Yolanda Chavez, a top official with the City Administrative Officer, revealed another disturbing fact.
An AHOS project that’s officially deemed “permanent supportive housing” only needs to earmark half of its units for the homeless. In other words, not even the homeless housing will be truly homeless housing.
“You can have a project that has 50 percent affordable units and 50 percent supportive,” Chavez said at the meeting. “They have to be 50 percent supportive, and 50 percent of those have to be reserved for the chronically homeless. So that’s the definition of permanent supportive housing.”
Chavez talked as if everything was perfectly okay. Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, chair of the homeless and poverty committee, said nothing. Affordable housing advocates, who were present, also kept mum.
Instead, advocates had only good things to say about the AHOS program — perhaps because they wanted city contracts to build AHOS projects.
The L.A. Times was unconcerned, casually reporting that the “city initially planned to offer the [AHOS] sites for supportive housing, which would include on-site services. But the recommendation released Thursday said proposals could include affordable housing, mixed-income housing, market-rate housing and occupant-owned housing as well.”
The fact that a homeless housing program, which Garcetti and City Council members touted as a vital first step to address L.A.’s homeless crisis, could now build market-rate housing did not alarm the L.A. Times in the least.
All this is happening in a city run by liberal Democrats (Garcetti and Wesson included) in what’s considered to be one of the top progressive bastions in the U.S. — with the left-leaning L.A. Times supervising.
Today, Angelenos remain largely uninformed about the specifics of the AHOS program. L.A. politicians quietly, and hurriedly, pushed it through; the L.A. Times never raised an eyebrow; and affordable housing advocates took a powder.
City officials are currently sorting through the proposals for projects that will make up the AHOS program. With complete certainty, permanent supportive housing will not be built at every city-owned property — five sites in Lincoln Heights, which is represented by Councilman Gil Cedillo, have already been designated for “mixed-income” housing.
As a result, the city’s use of Measure HHH money for the AHOS program will not go entirely to homeless housing, and homeless men, women, and children will not receive the full amount of housing and services that Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council had promised.
Instead, an affluent professional, the only person who can afford market-rate housing in L.A., may land a nice pad on city-owned property in increasingly gentrified Lincoln Heights or near the beach on the Westside. It’s the very definition of a scandal.
Patrick Range McDonald, an award-winning journalist, was senior researcher and website editor for the Measure S campaign.