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City council approves new rules to speed up delivery of new homeless housing

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The rules will also allow old motels to be converted to housing

The new programs will ease requirements for new projects aimed at homeless residents.
Kit Leong | Shutterstock

A pair of new programs aimed at spurring new housing for the thousands of homeless residents who call Los Angeles home won the City Council’s approval today.

Council President Herb Wesson called the vote “the next step towards bringing roofs and resources to our homeless brothers and sisters.”

The ordinances focus on the creation of new housing through the construction and creative reuse of existing buildings.

One of the ordinances would cut down on red tape for new developments that include supportive housing affordable to low-income residents. The other would allow owners of LA motels to convert the structures into badly needed housing.

A recent city report found that LA is home to more than 10,000 motel rooms, and that many of the city's 382 motels are old or in disrepair. Refashioning motels to house the homeless would be relatively easy, and the new rules allow property owners to easily obtain the approvals necessary to do so.

The resulting units will be offered as temporary housing for the homeless or as supportive housing, which, on top of affordability requirements, must include onsite services like counseling and substance abuse treatment. Motel owners will be responsible for working with local agencies to provide residents with services and rental subsidies.

The other ordinance, which focuses on new construction of supportive housing, streamlines the approval process for such projects, to save developers time and money.

Supporters of the plan say it will be a key part of ensuring the successful implementation of Measure HHH, which Los Angeles voters approved in 2016. The $1.2 billion initiative is expected to result in construction of 10,000 supportive housing units over the next decade.

The ballot measure was billed as an ambitious solution to a homelessness crisis that's only gotten worse since voters signed off on the initiative.

A 2017 count found that Los Angeles is home to nearly 35,000 homeless residents—a 20 percent increase over the year before.

Now, those units will be significantly easier for developers to build. In addition to expediting the planning process, the new rules create new incentives to spur creation of new projects. These include relaxed limitations on height and density, along with reduced parking requirements (units built for homeless residents won’t be subject to parking requirements at all).

The parts of the bill that allow affordable developers to skirt local zoning rules have set off alarm bells for some residents. Multiple speakers at Wednesday’s council meeting called the ordinance a “trojan horse” that would allow denser projects to rise in lower-slung areas.

Councilmember Jose Huizar dismissed those concerns, saying that qualifying projects would be subject to the same environmental review standards as other developments.

The councilmember said the new programs represent a “more creative” approach to addressing homelessness on the part of the city. Before 2016, when city leaders approved a list of strategies for combatting the crisis, Huizar said, “our policy around homelessness was to react to the latest lawsuit.”

Now, he maintained, “we know where we’re going.” “Huizar said the policies would help get people off the streets faster. “We need to put people in shelters and housing right now,” he said.