Getting everyone ‘Inside Safe’
The goal is fewer tents and waste on neighborhood sidewalks. And it seems that goal is within reach.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) said that while an average of 207 people experiencing homelessness were moved out of encampments each day in 2020, an additional 227 people became homeless daily. The number of individuals losing their homes outpaced efforts to rehouse people.
That was before Los Angeles voted in a new mayor last November, who promised to make the city’s homeless crisis a priority.
Mayor Karen Bass has been concentrating on cutting through red tape; unlocking public land for housing; and strengthening bonds between the city, county, state and federal politicians — instead of pointing accusing fingers — to enact proactive strategies on the issue.
Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum, who formally started her role as CEO of LAHSA on March 26, created the Inside Safe program based on lessons learned while housing people during the pandemic. Outreach workers offer homeless persons motel rooms and other temporary housing, along with a path to permanent housing with services. People can keep their property and stay with their partners and their pets.
“We are removing the barriers that have been in place for far too long – and as a result, we have finally dispelled the myth that people do not want to come inside,” Bass said in her recent State of the City address. “And so today, more than one-thousand Angelenos are living inside and safe through this initiative.”
As of March, more than 4,000 people were offered immediate housing and a commitment of wraparound services and permanent housing through Inside Safe. Some of that housing was built as a result of the HHH funding voters passed years ago, and Bass has attended a number of ribbon cuttings this year.
“As we scale our homelessness strategy, renting motel rooms is just not a sustainable model,” Bass said. “That is why my budget breaks new ground to fund the purchase of motels and hotels by the city. The city must also lead with the land we own and control.”
Additionally, the Bass administration is working on solutions to prevent homelessness in the first place, including new tenant protections against evictions and the preservation of at-risk units which provide affordable housing.
This was included in her December Executive Directive 1 (ED 1), the expedition of permits and clearances for temporary shelters and affordable housing types.
“By shortening our entitlements process by five months, ED 1 significantly expedited our development timeline for The Pano, our 91- unit permanent supportive housing development for individuals experiencing homelessness,” said Elda Mendez-Lemus, from LA Family Housing who was quoted in the mayor’s recent powerpoint. “We will now be able to begin construction on this important project this summer instead of at the end of the year.”
Bass also released her first proposed city budget last month, which includes nearly $1.3 billion, an unprecedented investment to build housing and confront the homelessness crisis “to accelerate our momentum on homelessness,” she said.
The budget includes $250 million for Inside Safe, broken down to the following priorities:
• $110 million for motel rooms/temporary housing
• $62 million for services (case management, moving people to permanent housing, food, support services)
• $47 million for buying hotels and motels
• $21 million for permanent housing – includes transition and set up of permanent housing, 12 months of rental assistance
• $10 million for staff – including directors and property managers, administrative funding for services providers.
The budget also includes funding for: 13 outreach teams within the mayor’s Office of Housing & Homelessness Solutions; substance abuse/mental health treatment beds; and street medicine teams. Half of this funding is provided by a Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention Grant.
Additionally, Los Angeles voters ushered in Measure ULA (short for “United to House LA”), authorizing a new funding source for affordable housing development and homelessness prevention programs.
According to a report from UCLA, this new policy could generate around $900 million every year by increasing the taxes owed on each real estate deal over $5 million – or an estimated 4% of annual LA real estate transactions. The revenue earned from Measure ULA is estimated to fund the production of around 26,000 affordable homes over the next ten years, as well as provide support for renters such as cash assistance. 30% of funds are earmarked for homelessness prevention activities.
Unfortunately, a coalition of real estate and homeowner groups have brought a lawsuit against Measure ULA, hoping to prove that California’s Proposition 13 makes “transfer taxes” for specific, designated purposes unconstitutional. LA officials say they are confident that the state constitution allows for citizens to initiate this kind of tax via ballot initiative, and the city still plans to begin collecting the tax. However, the revenue may be held in an escrow account until the lawsuit is resolved.
Millions in ULA funds could be used for acquisition and rehabilitation of housing; short term emergency assistance for tenants; income support for rent burdened at risk seniors/people with disabilities; eviction defense; tenant outreach; and tenant protection from harassment.
In addition to helping the homeless, the proposed budget also includes initiatives to improve public safety.
“This budget is a reflection of our values and invests in the most critical needs of our city,” said Bass. “The goal is to make both big changes and to chart a course of sustainable change. With 40,000 people unhoused in our city, and with the size of our police department possibly dropping to 2002 levels, we must take bold action — and that’s what this budget is — a real, sustainable plan for change and a new direction for a Los Angeles that is stronger, healthier, happier and safer. “