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Soaring Demand For LA's Public Housing, But Few Openings

The 100-unit Rose Hills Courts public housing site in Montecito Heights. (HACLA)
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Applications to live in Los Angeles public housing surged last month, a sign of the pressure Angelenos feel from a housing crisis coupled with a pandemic that has cost thousands their jobs.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles received 1,737 applications in May 2020, easily the highest monthly figure since 2010. Every month in 2020 has seen more than 1,000 applications, a number that far outpaces the average in recent years.

Rising unemployment may have driven more households to apply to live in L.A.'s public housing. But the rise in applications dates back to 2019, said HACLA Chief Program Officer Margarita Lares.

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"The reality is that Los Angeles has been in a crisis for some years now," she told LAist, pointing to the city's struggles with homelessness and housing, and its low vacancy rates for affordable rentals. The number might be even higher, Lares said, if eviction moratoriums and stimulus funding weren't helping low-income tenants stay in their units.

However, recent applicants will come up against the reality of public housing in L.A.: The city has very little of it.

"There's not a lot of folks that we can help on a regular basis, because of the great demand that there is for public housing," Lares said.

HACLA operates 6,900 units of public housing, home to about 23,000 Angelenos. But demand far outstrips the agency's ability to provide it, and its waitlist numbers 62,000.

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HACLA's 14 sites dot the city but are concentrated in South and East Los Angeles. The 1,066-unit Nickerson Gardens complex is the biggest public housing site west of the Mississippi River. Yet less-populous U.S. cities, such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, have substantially more public housing than Los Angeles.

Residents in traditional public housing qualify based on income and pay 30 percent of their adjusted income towards rent. Housing and Urban Development, a federal agency, pays the rest. HACLA also operates Section 8 and other subsidized housing programs.

The surge in applications to HACLA comes as greater attention is being paid to housing's driving role in racial inequality, following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The applications for May represent the largest monthly total since at least 2010. The next highest months were also in 2020: January, February and April of this year all saw more than 1,250 applications.