Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass recently issued an order allowing the use of residential hotel rooms, typically reserved for low-income, disabled, and elderly residents, as temporary shelters for the homeless.
This move, part of the Inside Safe initiative, aims to address the city’s homelessness crisis by providing immediate shelter, despite potentially conflicting with a 2008 city law designed to protect these residential units.
The order states:
- During this Local emergency, any unit in a Residential Hotel, whether a Residential Unit or Tourist Unit, may be made available for shelter and interim housing provided to an otherwise unsheltered individual under a booking or occupancy agreement with the City or other public agency so long as the unit was vacant at the time of the booking. Any such occupancy made available to unsheltered individuals shall not be deemed by the City to be a violation of the RHO.
- The Los Angeles Housing Department shall conduct a comprehensive review of all Residential Hotels currently on the City’s list and report back to me and to the City Council within 30 days with an assessment of the residential Hotel stock and occupancy rates and include a summary on the progress of pending appeals.
- In reliance on the results of the above-referenced comprehensive review, the Los Angeles Housing Department, in consultation with and assisted by the City Attorney, the City Administrative Officer, and the Chief Legislative Analyst, shall propose updates to the Residential Hotel Ordinance and provide recommendations for administrative changes, guidelines, enforcement strategy, and needed resources to support the updates ordinance.
Legal experts and housing advocates have expressed concerns about the plan’s long-term implications for permanent housing availability. Despite clearing numerous street encampments and housing over 1,600 people in temporary shelters, the challenge of finding permanent solutions remains significant.
The new directive, which is in effect until the emergency ends, would significantly expand the city’s short-term shelter options, as there are roughly 300 buildings designated as residential hotels across the city. Any vacant residential hotel unit could be used to provide temporary housing under an agreement with the city.
“This executive directive continues work to help bring unhoused Angelenos inside as quickly as possible so they don’t die on our streets,” Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl wrote in a statement.
But Barbara Schultz, the director of housing justice at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, called the order “incredibly shortsighted” and “a huge step backwards.”
“Los Angeles is short tens of thousands of permanent units,” Schultz said. “As it is, we can’t move people from interim units into permanent units because of the shortfall. So how does removing permanent units help?”
Schultz said the mayor’s order could violate a 2006 lawsuit settlement that predates the residential hotel law and requires more than 65 downtown hotels to remain residential.
Mayor Bass’s plan includes leasing entire hotels to create communities for homeless individuals, a costly but potentially more cohesive approach.
“What we’re doing is that we are leasing motel rooms. It’s a very expensive model, so we’re getting ready to master lease, which means we lease the entire motel, and we go to the encampments, which are a series of tents,” Bass said during an interview with MSNBC.
“And what I think the general public might not realize is that in order to survive on the street, people create communities. And so instead of splitting them up, we move the entire community. The inside, a community based organization, takes over and provides the services.”
Democrat Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass says the city will “master lease” entire hotels so homeless encampments can all move in together pic.twitter.com/48vdjO376M
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) November 12, 2023
Earlier this year, it was announced that the city was considering purchasing and renovating the Mayfair hotel for over $83 million to provide interim housing. This strategy reflects broader debates in major cities over prioritizing limited housing resources and addressing homelessness effectively.
Los Angeles Daily News reported:
The council voted 12-2 to approve spending approximately $83 million to purchase and renovate the 294-room historic hotel, and to pay for associated costs, as part of the mayor’s Inside Safe homeless initiative.
A $60 million “encampment resolution” grant from the state to pay for operations at the site stipulates the money must be used to serve individuals from skid row — the epicenter of the region’s homelessness crisis. Because of that, the Mayfair Hotel is expected to only house individuals from skid row during the first two years of operation.
But once the grant expires after two years, priority for living at the Mayfair, located at 1256 W. 7th St., would go to individuals in Council District 1, where the hotel is located. Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents District 1, made that request before the council’s vote.