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Housing and Homelessness

LA’s Mayor Wants To Solve Homelessness. But At One Downtown Hotel, The Future Is Uncertain

The facade of a building is rounded with the words The L.A. visible above a covered drive. Palm trees are in front and behind and to the left is a multi-story building with a mirrored glass front
The L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Residents living there say they’ve received mixed signals about whether they have to vacate.
(Phoenix Tso
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Update Jan. 14

The L.A. mayor’s office and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority appear at odds over the future of a downtown hotel that’s been used to house people experiencing homelessness in the city during the pandemic.

With less than three weeks to go before the hotel is set to close — residents living there say they’ve received mixed signals about whether they have to vacate.

Mario Rodriguez, who has lived at the L.A. Grand Hotel for more than two years, said people living at the hotel are in a state of confusion – and he’s become fearful for what will happen next.

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“It’s really eerie now,” he said. “I'm too stressed out.”

During a visit by LAist last week, lights were on in the lobby and multiple guards stood inside the front door, as well as at a side entrance.

Few people came and went from the hotel, just a handful of residents, caseworkers and office workers who were using the hotel parking garage.

But Rodriguez and others said in recent weeks they have seen officials bring new people in even though LAHSA officials who oversee the hotel maintain it will close Jan. 31 along with the end of Project Roomkey — a federally funded program that used hotels across the region to temporarily house people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.

A man with medium-ton skin with long hair and a gray goatee stands in front of the L.A. Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles
Mario Rodriguez has lived at the L.A. Grand Hotel for more than two years.
(Phoenix Tso

A spokesperson for L.A. Mayor Karen Bass did not respond to questions regarding whether the administration plans to keep the hotel open beyond January, but in a statement said plans for the L.A. Grand and other hotels and motels “continue to evolve.”

Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that people living in encampments near city hall were taken to the hotel ahead of Bass’ inauguration.

Confusion At The Hotel

LAHSA officials notified Rodriguez that he needed to move out by Dec. 19, but that date came and went without him having to leave. Scott Narhuminti, who’s lived at the L.A. Grand since May, said he also was told he had to vacate by mid-December. But no one followed up, so he’s continued living there.

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Everybody's telling me, well, they can't legally kick you out. They gotta find you a place first. And so I just stopped worrying about it.
— Scott Narhuminti

“Everybody's telling me, well, they can't legally kick you out. They gotta find you a place first. And so I just stopped worrying about it,” he said.

Suzanna Hartnett was asked to leave the hotel on Monday. She had nowhere else to go until the same day, when she said officials called her an Uber that took her to a congregate shelter in Leimert Park.

Hartnett said she has no privacy at the shelter, and doesn’t know when her caseworker will help her find an apartment. She wishes she could have stayed at the L.A. Grand, and said she thinks Bass should use city funds to purchase the hotel.

“She probably might get more people off the streets … and help them,” Hartnett said.

A Mixed Response On What Happens Next

There were more than 400 people at the L.A. Grand Hotel when the city decided in August to close its last Project Roomkey sites. Now, a little under 130 people remain at the hotel, according to Ahmad Chapman, a spokesperson for LAHSA. Chapman said the agency is “moving forward” with closing the Project Roomkey and the L.A. Grand.

Remaining residents have been given notice to leave, according to Chapman, and will be offered at least one interim housing placement before the site closes. He added that most people at the L.A. Grand have received a housing voucher or subsidy, and are looking for permanent housing.

The uncertainty at the L.A. Grand comes at a time when Bass has said solving homelessness is her top priority, and that she wants to use hotels to get people into housing more quickly. Last month, Bass announced Inside Safe, a citywide directive that includes plans to shelter thousands of unhoused people in hotels and motels.

At the time, she said the initiative will build on the lessons learned from Project Roomkey. “It’s not our desire to move people from a tent into a slum,” she said.

Zach Seidl, a spokesperson for Bass, said in a statement that the mayor “continues to explore the extension of Project Roomkey, and is looking at every opportunity to find new places to bring people inside safely.”

Pete Brown, a spokesperson for Councilmember Kevin de León — whose district includes the L.A. Grand, said de León’s office still expects the hotel to close Jan. 31 “unless something changes.” Brown said operating the L.A. Grand as part of Inside Safe depends on funding and logistics, and is up to the mayor.

De León, who has come under intense pressure to resign following the city hall leaked audio scandal, was unavailable for an interview, according to Brown.

On L.A.’s Streets, 41,000 People Experience Homelessness

Homelessness has been a persistent challenge for the city – the latest count estimated 41,000 people experience homelessness on any given night. Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness on her first day in office, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors followed with a unanimous vote supporting its own emergency declaration on homelessness this week.

Miguel Santana is CEO of the Weingart Foundation and chair of the Committee for a Greater Los Angeles. As a member of the mayor’s transition team, he said he has urged the mayor to consider all options.

“Every opportunity needs to be fully examined and reviewed. So that would include the L.A. Grand,” he said.

A Scramble To Find Housing

As Project Roomkey winds down, it’s fallen far short of its stated goals. Of the 15,000 people officials initially hoped to house since the beginning of the pandemic, only about a third have secured permanent housing, according to data released in November.

Several L.A. Grand residents said they experienced long processing delays for federal COVID-19 emergency housing vouchers, which were available to subsidize rent for permanent housing.

Rosa Venegas said that when she was evicted from the L.A. Grand in September — back when evictions tied to Project Roomkey’s closing plan first began — she had been waiting six months for someone from LAHSA to follow up about her housing voucher application.

“I've never received that — that answer,” Venegas said, who moved to a homeless shelter in Chinatown after her eviction.

LAHSA Chief Programs Officer Molly Rysman said the voucher application process involves “a lot of different partners who are trying to work together.”

“It does happen where there are communication breakdowns,” she said.

Adding to the challenges: City contractors have struggled to find enough experienced caseworkers to hire to help hotel residents on their housing searches.

Cynthia Trahan, who goes by Mama Cat, lived at two different hotels last year that were former Project Roomkey sites. She worked with two caseworkers who she said did little to help. She estimates she made at least two dozen calls, emails and text messages over a 10 month time period and got no response.

She ended up finding an apartment on her own in September, and said she went to her caseworker’s supervisor in order to secure a subsidy to help pay her rent.

“That made me age a whole year in a few months,” Trahan said of the process.

As L.A. Mayor Karen Bass begins her term, tell us what issues feel most urgent to you.
Editors note
  • The Weingart Foundation and the Committee for a Greater Los Angeles are supporters of Southern California Public Radio, which owns and operates LAist. They do not have a role in editorial decisions.