By Robin Urevich / Capital & Main
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass issued an order Wednesday that allows the city to use residential hotel rooms — which by law are set aside as permanent housing for some of the city’s poorest residents — to temporarily shelter unhoused Angelenos during the city’s current housing emergency.
The order contradicts the 2008 residential hotel law — passed in response to an earlier housing crisis — which requires some 16,000 housing units — mostly bare-bones single rooms — in 300 buildings across the city to remain residential. If owners of those buildings remove any units from the rental market, they must either replace the housing units or pay a replacement fee to the city.
The order is designed to open additional rooms for the mayor’s Inside Safe initiative and other programs until their participants can be placed in permanent housing. Since December, Inside Safe has cleared some 29 street encampments and moved more than 1,600 unhoused people to temporary housing in more than 40 hotels and motels.
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“This Executive Directive continues work to help bring unhoused Angelenos inside as quickly as possible so they don’t die on our streets,” wrote Zach Seidl, a spokesperson for Mayor Bass.
Barbara Schultz, the director of housing justice at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, called the order “incredibly short-sighted” 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?”
As of October 13, Matt Szabo, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer reported that just 190 of 1682 Inside Safe participants had found a permanent place to live.
In July, a Capital & Main and ProPublica investigation found at least 21 hotels with about 800 units had advertised rooms to tourists in apparent violation of the law. The mayor’s office immediately ordered the city’s Housing Department to account for the lapse in enforcement. Housing officials issued citations to the owners of 17 of the hotels, ordering them to restore their rooms to residential use. All but one of the owners has appealed the order.
Schultz said the mayor’s order could violate a 2006 lawsuit settlement that requires more than 65 downtown hotels to also remain residential.
The mayor’s order also requires the Los Angeles Housing Department to “conduct a comprehensive review of all residential hotels” within 30 days, so that city officials can consider updates to the Residential Hotel Ordinance.
Robin Urevich is a journalist and radio reporter whose work has appeared on NPR, Marketplace, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Las Vegas Sun.