L.A. Board of Supervisor Candidates on the Issues: How to Stem a Rising Tide of Homelessness

Homelessness rose 12 percent in L.A. County last year, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Photo: Ray Bussolari

This weekThe Chronicle of Social Change is publishing a series of posts from leading candidates running to succeed Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Ridley-Thomas is stepping down because of term limits, and a full slate of candidates is running to take his place on the board, representing more than 2 million residents across parts of South, Central and West L.A., as well as several other communities in L.A. County.

On March 3, voters will go to the polls to elect his successor, who will help oversee an annual budget of $33 billion. We asked several top candidates to share their ideas on the county’s critical safety-net challenges, such as child welfare, juvenile justice, homelessness and affordable housing. To hear more about these issues, join us at a nonpartisan candidates forum on January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, hosted in partnership with Southern California Grantmakers and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

Over the next week, we are sharing candidates’ policies related to child welfare, homelessness and affordable housing. Today’s post deals with what candidates would do to address L.A. County’s most pressing issue: homelessness.

Homelessness, a multifaceted problem, has today become endemic in the Second District, where 19,123 unhoused Angelenos are currently in need of our county’s care and thousands more are on the brink of homelessness. How will you work to end homelessness while respecting the dignity of the unhoused?

Former L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry

Jan Perry: If we want to decrease the homeless population, it is going to take a considerable effort that must include the full engagement of crucial county departments from public and mental health and criminal justice, to all facets of health care, to housing and on-going monitoring and involvement in the issue. The effort would be unprecedented.

We need the state, local and federal government, to be fully engaged in a Marshall Plan type of program that is well-coordinated and effectively managed. This issue is a huge priority for me. As supervisor, I will be committed to finding solutions and ensuring better outcomes for both the homeless and, for those impacted by this on-going challenge.

The best way to respect the dignity of the unhoused is to get them off the streets and into shelters where we can do in-depth assessments and determine a path forward. The longer people live on the street, the more susceptible they become to both physical and mental trauma.

L.A. City Councilmember Herb Wesson

Herb J. Wesson, Jr.: For me, the fight to end homelessness is more than policy. It’s personal. As I shared in late 2019, my wife Fabian and I have battled our son Doug’s drug addiction and homelessness for most of his adult life. That’s one of the reasons I have been at the forefront of the fight to provide more affordable housing and to end the scourge of homelessness in our community. I spearheaded L.A.’s emergency homelessness reduction plan, which led the passage of groundbreaking local Measures H and HHH to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars annually to build supportive housing and reduce homelessness. But my work isn’t done.

While the county is doing more than ever, we are still coming up short. The regional housing deficit is the root cause of this crisis, and I will bring experience and determination to the fight to build more affordable housing so no one has to live without the dignity of a roof over their head. I’m proud that the City of Los Angeles has been responsible for the lion’s share of new affordable housing built in Los Angeles County in the last decade, and I am determined to bring this type of urgency to the rest of the county as supervisor and make sure every jurisdiction is doing its fair share to reduce homelessness.

That’s why, as supervisor, I will:

  • Implement policies that will provide stronger protections for existing renters to ensure they are not priced out of their dwellings due to gentrification, including anti-displacement zones.
  • Expand services and build new housing so that no one who fought to keep our nation safe is forced to live on the streets.
  • Create an emergency rental assistance program that provides short-term, low-interest bridge loans to prevent evictions.
  • Establish a one-stop resource center to connect those on the verge of homelessness with job-training and career assistance programs as well as low-cost healthcare and childcare services.
  • Close loopholes in the Ellis Act to stop developers from destroying affordable housing to build luxury apartments and create anti-displacement zones near luxury developments that contain no affordable housing units.
  • Provide safe housing for domestic abuse survivors.
California State Senator Holly Mitchell

Holly J. Mitchell: Our homelessness challenge is a symptom of inequalities in accessing affordable housing, healthcare, family sustaining jobs and educational attainment that has crescendo into an economic and moral crisis. I appreciate the work that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) is doing to combat homelessness through the administration and management of multiple funds. However there is room for improvement. We are facing a homelessness crisis which leaves room for LAHSA, along with all the city and county departments focused on solving this challenge to be more effective. What can help with improving LAHSA’s efficiency is more transparency on the data collection and distribution of funding. This will help with allowing all the departments involved to see more clearly what prevailing factors cause residents to need repeated housing services and what models are providing a high return on investment. Increased transparency also increases accountability. As a county supervisor, I will commit to holding LAHSA accountable to the over $400 million in combined federal, state, county and city funding. The solutions we want to see will take time to manifest but having a clear understanding across all departments on the funding and strategies that LAHSA is at the helm of is critical to solving this crisis.

Lawyer Jake Jeong

Jake Jeong: Homelessness is the number one priority of my campaign. I am the only candidate willing to discuss a radical departure from the status quo, that has so far kept this crisis in limbo. Our system is not working, and the only way forward is to change that system from the ground up.

Below is an article I wrote on this issue, urging the leaders to redirect the current plan.

“$600,000 per unit for public housing?” “Three years, and zero units to show for it?” These are the facts!

After spending millions upon millions of dollars for the past three years, we have zero housing units. Once we spend the entirety of what was provided by Proposition HHH, we will end up with about 7,640 units. Those units will not be done for five or six more years. The city’s current plan for construction costs $600,000 per unit. This was all confirmed by L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin after auditing 10 projects.

We have 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles. The city’s current plan is wasting both time and money, only to put a Band-Aid on the massive wound on our city.

So now what do we do? Can we change the plan?

If we can build 30,000 units with the same money at a much faster rate, would you ​not​ change the plan? I say it’s not too late, but we have to act now, because soon it will be.

Ironically enough, the outrageously slow speed of the city’s work may end up in our favor. Their plan was never going to address this crisis the way it should be addressed. Their projects are bogged down in the negotiation of so-called “soft costs.” That’s code for greed. These costs include permitting and licensing fees, all hampered by a very small pool of developers. But that means development has not begun, which means it’s not too late. We still have time to renegotiate these projects from the ground up. I want to bring my plan for modular construction to the table. We can construct these units for $130,000 each, and it takes only ten months to build. At that rate, we can build 30,000 units in the time it takes the current plan to complete a fraction of that.

Let me make it simple for you. We have two options.

1. We spend the entire budget of about $4 billion, including HHH funds, and end up with 7,000 units in 10 years.

2. We spend less money constructing 30,000 units in less than one year.

It’s simple math. There is a lot of available money, including the HHH funds and federal tax credits. The problem is that the bulk of these funds are already allocated toward certain projects. They are being mismanaged in projects that are going absolutely nowhere. As a city government we need to come together to address this. If we were able to redirect these funds, we will be able to build even ​more​ than 30,000 units.

However, nothing will change with the same people sitting at the table making decisions. These people stand to profit from what I see as a complete failure of HHH. These soft costs do nothing but inflate their pockets. Nothing will change unless you, the people of L.A., speak up and use your votes to take that kickback away from them. Galperin’s report indicates that the city knows about my modular model, and they know the benefits of it. Why else would they have done nothing to explore their options?

Think about four years from now, eight years from now, 12 years from now. At the rate this city is going, do you see any hope for change? Will you let the city spend billions of dollars only to provide a Band-Aid solution to our homeless population?

Look beyond that for a moment. We have a gentrification crisis on our hands, in the midst of a development boom in the growing real estate market. Our working families are being priced out of their homes, facing eviction with nowhere else to go. They, too, can end up on the streets, and the cycle continues. Our politicians have failed. We simply do not have a plan for affordable housing.

And although a third of our county’s homeless population lives in District 2, the whole city needs to take responsibility. No, you don’t see homeless camps in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. That doesn’t make it purely our issue to solve, however. Homelessness is not a question of, “my problem or yours.”

I hereby request the current HHH plan be renegotiated toward using modular models. Mine is a REAL PLAN for the redirection of our city’s valuable resources to get REAL RESULTS that will help us both immediately and in the long-term. We should all be fed up with politicians giving us hope that they have a solution to the homelessness crisis, but having nothing to show for it. I want to create REAL CHANGE together, as a community.

Stay tuned for more responses from candidates running for the second district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week. You can RSVP for a community forum on these issues, taking place January 31 at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, by clicking here.

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