The Los Angeles City Council Friday heard three recommendations from the Chief Legislative Analyst’s office about restructuring the city’s response to homelessness, including withdrawing from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority — often criticized for lack of results and transparency — to create a city-only continuum of care.
John Wickham of the Chief Legislative Analyst’s office, who last week presented council members with a review of LAHSA’s structure and a comparison to other agencies, told the City Council on Friday that his office identified three models for a path forward:
— create a Metro-style state agency that would vertically integrate all of the city’s homeless services and exercise independent authority;
— reform LAHSA, including by restructuring the commission and the way commissioners are appointed, clarifying the role of the system administrator, creating a role for elected officials within the system and more;
— leave the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to create a smaller city-only continuum of care.
The third option may take years to complete, Wickham warned, as a new continuum of care must undergo a substantial review process from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before receiving federal funding. The city of Atlanta, which was initially part of a larger, regional continuum of care, broke off to form its own, but the process took about three years, Wickham said.
He added that HUD tends to be “biased against splits,” using a phrase he said he heard directly from HUD. He also warned that larger continuums of care, like LAHSA, tend to have more leverage to receive greater federal funds.
A continuum of care is a regional planning body that coordinates housing and homeless services funding for families and individuals in need. LAHSA is the lead agency for the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, which includes all cities in L.A. County with the exception of Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own continuums of care.
Councilman Paul Krekorian raised doubts that the city would sacrifice leverage for federal funds, noting that it is the second largest city in the U.S. He requested a review of the other three smaller continuums of care in the county to see how federal funds are allocated to them on a per capita basis.
Two Los Angeles City Councilmen, Paul Koretz and Joe Buscaino, have already introduced legislation to prepare the city for a potential withdrawal from LAHSA.
“The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome … in the case of LAHSA, if the information, resources and services the organization provides are going to continue to fall short of what we need to get Angelenos housed and back on their feet, then every option for reform — including severing those ties — should be on the table,” Koretz said in a statement last week. The councilmen cited LAHSA’s annual budget of nearly $1 billion, which is provided by the city, county, state and federal governments to ensure LAHSA performs street outreach and matches unhoused Angelenos with shelter and permanent housing.
LAHSA Executive Director Heidi Marston responded to the motion in a statement to City News Service that read:
“Over the last three years, LAHSA and its partners have permanently housed more than 66,000 people experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is complex, and the solution has to cut through jurisdictional layers. That’s why we need to work together with the city and county, as well as with our state and federal partners, to take bold action that cuts through red tape and builds a fast path to permanent housing for all of our unhoused neighbors.”
Marston added, “The motion will be referred to the committee of homelessness and poverty for additional discussion. The status quo is unacceptable and we look forward to addressing the proactive changes that have been made and the recommendations on the way forward.”
Krekorian noted on Friday that despite the city allocating nearly $1 billion to combat homelessness in the next fiscal year — which begins on Thursday — and being the biggest city within the LAHSA continuum of care, the city of Los Angeles does not have representation on the continuum’s board.
“There’s a school district representative from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, there’s a representative from the Los Angeles County Development Authority, even USC has a representative … but the city of Los Angeles, that’s investing $1 billion, has zero representation as the largest city within the continuum of care,” Krekorian said. “Can we all agree that that’s absurd?”
On Thursday, Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, introduced a proposal to unify city and county efforts to end homelessness through an intergovernmental panel of elected officials from both entities.
The panel would “provide timely and regular input on governance of the homelessness system,” according to Ridley-Thomas’ proposal. The panel’s creation was recommended by LAHSA, and Ridley-Thomas’ proposal comes after the Homelessness and Poverty Committee reviewed reports by LAHSA, the Los Angeles Chief Legislative Analyst, the county Chief Executive Officer and the Committee for A Greater L.A.
“The bottom line for me is this: If we are to be successful at meaningfully abating homelessness, the multiple institutions and jurisdictions responsible for responding to this civic and moral crisis must be aligned on the mission, goals and outcomes,” Ridley-Thomas said. “However, if we are going to take an honest look in the mirror, we know that is simply not the case in Los Angeles. We need to do a hard reset to ensure we are aligned with our key partner, the county of Los Angeles.”
Ridley-Thomas’ proposal also calls for policy and finance experts within the city and county to create a L.A. City/County Reimagining Governance Action Plan to:
— establish a mission, goals and metrics for measuring progress;
— provide recommendations on urgent operational changes, with an initial focus on establishing a unified Street Engagement and Outreach Strategy;
— provide recommendations for an updated governance framework, including specific updates to the Joint Powers Agreement with LAHSA; and
— advance updates to the city’s homeless strategies.
On June 18, while presenting the City Council with issues identified within LAHSA, Wickham told council members that key problems include:
— elected officials are not integrated into the center of the system;
— the system is complex, which is partly necessary due to the complexity of the county, its political systems and its population;
— parts of the system have authority with no accountability; and
— parts of the system are held accountable but have no authority.
“In restructuring the system, whichever path it goes down, these are some of the things that need to be addressed,” Wickham said.
Council President Nury Martinez said the City Council would continue discussions about a path forward after it returns from recess, which begins on July 6 and ends July 27.