In an attempt to penalize landlords who keep units empty in the face of a growing housing crisis, the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday ordered the preparation of a report on the number of vacant residences in the city.

City Councilman Mike Bonin made a motion in June calling for the report, along with Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Paul Koretz and David Ryu. The action is an attempt to find housing that could be used for low-income or supportive housing.

“No bed in this city should be empty when people are being forced to sleep on pavement,” Bonin said. “Empty home penalties encourage landlords to keep people housed, and they help raise needed funds to create more affordable housing. This is an important tool for addressing one of the root causes of homelessness in Los Angeles, and it is a step we desperately need to take.”

The city council voted 11-0 in favor of obtaining a report.

Based on the report, the city could look at creating penalties, vacancy taxes or speculator taxes that could be enforced on landlords. Such levies would require voter approval.

Bonin said luxury apartments are built and sold to investors, some who don’t live near Los Angeles, and kept off the market with hopes of the property value rising over time. The Housing and Community Investment Department is expected to focus part of the report on properties that are intentionally left vacant for investment purposes.

“Investors who keep housing units vacant are letting their greed contribute to a humanitarian crisis on our streets,” Bonin said. “There is no way to end our homelessness crisis without measures like this to expand opportunities for people to live in affordable housing.”

The point of the report is to “get sufficient information” before making policy suggestions, Bonin said, adding that it’s important to understand the reasons why units are left vacant.

Ryu said he doesn’t want the law to be overly punitive, but he said, “housing is for people, not investment portfolios.”

Councilman Paul Krekorian said the policies ultimately developed might include penalties or incentives for homeowners in order to abate the vacancies.

Bonin said an estimated 111,000 housing units in Los Angeles are vacant, according to Census data. Vacancy penalties already exist in some other cities.

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