LA council approves settlement to spend up to $3 billion on homeless housing units, beds

Friday, May 13, 2022
LA City Council approves settlement of homelessness lawsuit
"We will continue breaking down housing barriers for unhoused Angelenos and bringing them indoors at rates we've never seen before,'' Council President Nury Martinez wrote on Twitter after the vote.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Los Angeles City Council approved a settlement with the LA Alliance for Human Rights Wednesday in which the city will spend up to $3 billion over the next five years to develop as many as 16,000 beds or housing units for the homeless, enough to accommodate 60% of the homeless population in each of the 15 City Council districts.

"This council voted to formalize our commitment to building more housing as we approved the settlement for the LA Alliance Case. As a city, we will continue breaking down housing barriers for unhoused Angelenos and bringing them indoors at rates we've never seen before,'' Council President Nury Martinez wrote on Twitter after the vote.

Council members voted 12-3 to approve the settlement, with Councilwoman Nithya Raman and Councilmen Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson voting no. When the settlement was first announced in April, Bonin said he opposed it, saying "it won't really help us solve homelessness.''

"This settlement is structured to allow the city to do the minimum necessary to step up the failed and expensive enforcement strategies it always uses ... it also perpetuates the council district-by-council district approach, which is piecemeal, scattered, inefficient and unsuccessful,'' he tweeted on April 1.

The settlement of the federal case does not include Los Angeles County, which is also a defendant in the lawsuit, but city officials said the county will be responsible for providing services and housing for homeless individuals with serious mental illness, substance-use issues or chronic physical illnesses.

City leaders said the county must provide services for that segment of the homeless population since it has the medical and social-work facilities to do so -- while the city does not.

The actual number of housing units and beds the city will be required to build under the settlement remains uncertain, pending the results of the recently conducted point-in-time'' countywide homeless count. But city officials estimate that meeting the terms of the settlement will require the addition of 14,000 to 16,000 beds, costing between $2.4 billion and $3 billion.

A large portion of those required units is believed to be already in the planning stages with funding from the 2016 voter-approved Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund homelessness solutions.

According to the most recent homeless count, conducted prior to the pandemic in 2020, the countywide homeless population was 66,433, a nearly 13% increase from the previous year. The city of Los Angeles homeless population was 36,165, up 14% from the prior year.

RELATED | An Oasis on Skid Row: Homeless women find their 'ray of sunshine' in facility offering care, healing

The Oasis is a first of its kind "recuperative care" center, exclusively for homeless women on Skid Row. It's a 40-bed facility designed to help women heal from the trauma of the streets while waiting for placement in permanent housing.

The county was named as a co-defendant with the city in the March 2020 complaint, but it recently withdrew from closed-door settlement talks in Los Angeles federal court.

Los Angeles County "must step up and do their part,'' City Council President Nury Martinez told reporters at a news conference in April at City Hall.

In February, U.S. District Judge David Carter ordered a series of mandatory settlement talks to begin after city and county representatives indicated they had no sense of when or if they might strike a deal that would lead to an agreement with the Alliance -- an association of downtown residents, homeless individuals and property owners who filed the suit.

The lawsuit brought by the L.A. Alliance had been on hold almost since it was filed with the goal of forcing local government to "comprehensively'' deal with the homelessness crisis downtown.

Settlement talks eventually expanded from the original lawsuit focus of downtown's Skid Row area to the thousands of transients living under or next to the region's freeways, then ultimately to the county's entire homeless population.

Skip Miller, outside counsel for the county, has long argued that the county should not be held accountable for Skid Row because "the city has primary jurisdiction.''

Miller issued a statement in April saying the lawsuit "has no merit with regard to the county.''

"It is between the plaintiffs and the city, and we're glad they settled,'' he said. "We intend to litigate and win this case. The county is more than doing its job and doing everything possible to address homelessness without stigmatizing it as a crime. Any assertion that the county has failed on this obligation is utterly baseless. Unlike the lawsuit, which focuses on four miles of downtown L.A., the county is obligated by law to use its resources equitably among all 88 cities and unincorporated areas within the 4,000 square miles of its jurisdiction.''

The plaintiffs said that wherever the homeless are located, services have not kept pace with the ever-expanding crisis.

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.