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LA closing in on new rules to build homeless housing faster

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With $1.2 billion to spend, the city wants to speed up delivery of new affordable projects

Construction site near sidewalk tents.
A new plan would expedite the approval of projects that provide housing for the homeless.
David McNew, Getty Images

A plan to speed up construction of housing specifically geared to serve homeless residents took a big step forward Tuesday when it cleared the city council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

Dozens of residents, from business leaders to housing advocates and formerly homeless residents, addressed the committee during Tuesday’s meeting—nearly all of them in support of the new policy.

“We have a mountain to climb in solving the problem of homelessness,” said Jerry Newman, board president for the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation. He told the committee that the proposal would give affordable housing developers the “essential equipment we need” to address the crisis.

Under the proposed rules, certain developments specifically tailored to serve the city’s most vulnerable residents would qualify for a streamlined review process, meaning that work can begin on those projects as soon as possible.

To qualify, projects must include permanent supportive housing which is affordable to low-income residents and include on-site services like healthcare and addiction treatment.

Those projects would also benefit from looser restrictions on height, density, and parking. For instance, developers would not have to provide parking spots for units designated as permanent supportive housing, making projects easier and less costly to build.

Amy Anderson, executive director of PATH Ventures, acknowledged Tuesday that allowing supportive housing projects to circumvent local planning rules requires “community members and neighborhood councils to give up a level of participation in the development process,” but argued that this sacrifice would be necessary to address “a housing affordability and homelessness crisis of unprecedented scale.”

In 2016, Los Angeles voters signed off on Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion plan to build 10,000 units of housing in ten years to accommodate members of the city’s rapidly growing homeless population. But community resistance to housing developments aimed at the homeless—and even storage centers for their belongings—is often fierce.

Last month, seven city councilmembers committed to building at least 222 units of housing funded by Measure HHH in their districts, and called upon the other members of the council to do the same. Housing advocates say rules like those proposed in the permanent supportive housing ordinance will help make that kind of widespread development happen.

“Passing ballot measures was the easy part,” says Tommy Newman, director of public affairs for the United Way. “Now it’s a matter of spending the money.”

With the PLUM Committee’s stamp of approval, the permanent supportive housing ordinance will move on to the city council for final approval.