LA Could Turn More Lots Into Shelters To Fight Homelessness, But The Idea Is Still Being Debated
Jacquelyn Webb has lived on the streets for seven years and said she’s tired of it. She went to get help finding an apartment at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee’s Homeless Access Center in South L.A.’s Green Meadows neighborhood.
Webb, a 52-year-old Black woman who has lived in Los Angeles for her entire life, had two words for L.A. City councilmembers: “Please help.”
Webb lives on a fixed income and said she used to always be able to find an apartment in L.A., but it’s been hard getting back on her feet since she lost it.
“I just feel like these landlords got greedy, they don't care about us,” Webb said. “Back in the day, they used to care about the people; it's nothing but profit now. If you don't have any money, there goes the door. It's not right.”
Despite the billions of dollars invested in solving the homelessness crisis across the region, residents of L.A. both housed and unhoused are fed up with what they see as a lack of movement by the city to help people facing homelessness.
L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin released a report Wednesday that recommended 26 properties that the city owns that could be used immediately to provide a combined 1.7 million square feet of space for interim housing. Space that can be used for additional tiny home villages, safe parking lots or support facilities such as showers, restrooms and laundry.
“With tens of thousands of people sleeping on the streets nightly, the City must do more to alleviate homelessness by using the properties it owns,” Galperin said in a statement. “The status quo is unacceptable. These properties are big enough, unused or vacant, and could give shelter and services to thousands of unhoused Angelenos.”
I’ve been homeless now going on three years sleeping in my car, sleeping wherever, and it's hard. I’m just trying to get me some type of housing so I can be stable, so I can say: ‘yeah, this is mine.’
Galperin’s office decided to move forward after finding that Proposition HHH, the 2016 bond measure voters passed to build 10,000 supportive housing units, was not meeting its goals. Only 1,100 units have been built.
One of the largest recommended locations is in L.A. City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s district, which happens to be right behind the Homeless Access Center in South L.A. After learning the site was marked as a potential place to put up immediate shelter, Webb, who is currently looking for a place to live, was thrilled.
“I would love that,” Webb said. “Nobody wants to be in the streets.”
Damon, a 43-year-old Black man who only wanted to use his first name, was also at the Watts Homeless Access Center, trying to get help finding an apartment. He grew up in L.A. and also wants to see the site used for permanent supportive housing.
“I’ve been homeless now going on three years sleeping in my car, sleeping wherever, and it's hard,” Damon said. “I’m just trying to get me some type of housing so I can be stable, so I can say: ‘yeah, this is mine.’”
Damon said he hasn’t been able to take shelter offers because shelters won’t have him due to an ongoing medical condition.
Asa Grissett, a 35-year-old unhoused Black man in Watts, said he’s been waiting months to get into housing. He said the land should be used for tiny homes, since the land has been vacant for at least a decade.
“If they are ‘tiny homes’, then they shouldn't take that long to build,” Grissett said. “I’ll even help,” Grissett said. “Give me a job. I'll work too.”
Grissett said the vacant land points to a lack of willpower from city council members who say they want to help and have plenty of open space, but don’t act.
“It just goes to show how much help they’re really trying to give us,” he said.
The cost of doing businesses
Across town in L.A. City Councilmember Kevin de León’s district, Galperin’s office recommended a parking lot that sits behind a busy business district on César Chavez Blvd. The site is currently used for metered parking.
Guadalupe Carrillo has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and would prefer the city find another place to set up supportive housing or services for people experiencing homelessness.
“We can’t find no parking on the streets, there’s so many cars already on the streets, so we need the parking lot,” Carillo said, adding that if there was absolutely no other option then it would be a good idea.
Carrillo’s concerns about parking for businesses was echoed in the valley.
Jake Flynn, communications director for Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, said they are familiar with the sites recommended by Galperin, adding there are roughly 200 permanent supportive housing units currently under construction. But their office has run into obstacles about how to use the lots.
“The Councilmember is looking at possibilities there with necessary replacement parking as this has been a big point that nearby businesses have stressed when we've done outreach on this issue,” Flynn said in an email, adding that businesses “heavily rely on those lots for their customers.”
Flynn said Blumenfield would “keep pursuing opportunities that are feasible and have community support.”
Angelina Valencia-Dumarot, communications director for L.A. City Councilmember Curren D. Price, Jr., said the two recommended shelter locations on Crocker are currently under development for permanent supportive housing that will bring 83 units to the area.
Valencia-Dumarot said the parking lot on Slauson is currently used by the Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation, a community nonprofit that helps businesses and entrepreneurs start and expand their small businesses. They currently use the parking lot for their clients and employees, according to Valencia-Dumarot.
These two lots are currently under-equipped to handle the needs associated with ongoing business activities in the Village.
The locations recommended by Galperin for Council District 10, which includes the neighborhoods of Arlington Heights, Mid-City and West Adams, aren’t the right ones to focus on, according to Karly Katona, caretaker for the district appointed by L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez, until a permanent replacement is made.
Two of those parking lots serve Leimert Park Village, which is the center for Afro centric culture and commerce in South Los Angeles, according to Katona.
“These two lots are currently under-equipped to handle the needs associated with ongoing business activities in the Village, as well as the adjacent Crenshaw/LAX Line Station, and 800-seat Vision Theater, which are both slated to open this year,” Katona said in an email.
Another location Galperin recommended was Marlton Square, but the federal grants used to buy the parcels restrict the city from putting any form of housing on the property, according to Katona. The site is currently accepting pitches “for a development designed to create well-paying jobs for the surrounding community of South Los Angeles.”
Katona said the office is exploring development of a lot in Koreatown on Vermont Ave. just south of Wilshire for affordable and supportive housing and is working with the city’s housing agencies to find other suitable sites.
Conrado Terrazas, communications director for Councilmember Gil Cedillo, said their district ranks at the top of all council districts with the most affordable and permanent supportive housing, citing data from Los Angeles City Planning’s Housing and Community Investment Department.
“The City and our office are looking at city-owned lots to increase affordable housing stock and will consider viable options for the particular needs of each community,” Terrazas said. “We are diligently working to provide and build more housing for our unhoused neighbors throughout the city and our district.”
L.A. City Councilmember Joe Buscaino’s district has eight lots, the largest number recommended in the controller’s report. Branimir Kvartuc, communications director for Buscaino, said they are thankful for the roadmap of where its office should be looking to address the needs of unhoused residents in the district and will look to see which are viable.
“There’s always pushback,” Kvartuc said. “Now it's about getting community buy-in. We’ve gone through this process multiple times including with interim bridge homes. The councilman has stood behind his calculation that the situation would improve and neighbors who push back would see the benefits and back off.”
Neighborhood council’s weigh in
Jennifer Corral, president of the Harbor City Neighborhood Council, which is located in Buscaino’s district, said they had no comment on the issue of possible locations that can be used for people experiencing homelessness.
Tenesha Taylor, chairperson for the Watts Neighborhood Council, expressed concern about developing more housing in an area that is already congested and overpopulated. She suggested the city look at empty lots in South L.A. that aren’t in Watts.
“Why is it that poor communities are asked to do more than wealthier communities, like Woodland Hills?” said Jamie York, a resident of Reseda who is also secretary for the Reseda Neighborhood Council. Her comments were made in her private capacity as she isn’t allowed to speak on behalf of the neighborhood council until they’ve voted.
“We want to see every neighborhood participating in solutions for homelessness,” she said, adding that there are several lots in Woodland Hills that could be used that didn’t make the report.
Blumenfield had previously authored a motion in 2019 asking for several lots to be reviewed as potential places for permanent or affordable housing. In May 2019, the city council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee approved the sites,and it was sent to the city council for a vote. The Reseda Neighborhood Council originally supported the motion, but in August 2021, formally requested that any action related to the motion be stopped, claiming any outlier data obtained through the economic impact study would be tainted due to the pandemic.
York said there was a lack of transparency from Blumenfield’s office over how data was gathered, and they only found out about it after filing a California Public Records Act request. Beyond that, York expressed concern about the lots which are off Reseda Blvd.’s economic corridor.
We don't have to hurt other people to help unhoused people.
“If they close the parking lots, people will do street parking more and it's already extremely dangerous,” York said, citing how dangerous the street already is. “I constantly see accidents. There is a concern for the safety and wellbeing of others when it comes to these parking lot closures.”
York said the Reseda community has otherwise embraced other measures to bring unhoused people off the streets, such as the tiny home village and planned supportive housing and the purchase of motels.
“There’s a genuine fear among the business owners that if there is disruption for customers to access their business, they can't absorb two years of depressed business,” York said, adding the parking lots are the reason why they’ve been able to survive during the pandemic. “We are lucky we have an abundance of mom and pop business. But those mom and pop businesses are more fragile in what they can sustain as far as losses.”
“We don't have to hurt other people to help unhoused people,” said York.
Claudia Oliveira, president of the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council, said the neighborhood council appreciates Galperin’s efforts in coming up with more cost effective solutions to help unhoused people.
“We as a neighborhood council are always in favor of more permanent solutions including permanent supportive housing and we have supported many projects that are temporary because both solutions are needed,” said Oliveira, adding the council can’t take an official stance either way until residents have a chance to weigh in.
In her private capacity, Oliveira said a bridge housing option at the former LAPD headquarters at Parker Center, another of Galperin’s suggestions, would be perfect.
In addition to the 26 locations across the city and the former LAPD headquarters, Galperin also suggested properties owned by Los Angeles World Airports.
Ian Thompson, director of communications and innovation for Galperin, said the controller can only audit city programs and finances and make recommendations, but it’s up to policymakers to enact them.