Tenants-rights groups, housing activists and community service organizations said Tuesday’s announced increase in the area’s homeless population is a direct result of housing policies that have let housing costs go unchecked.
“For far too long, housing policy has failed to make the connection between affordability, displacement and homelessness,” according to a joint statement from Unincorporated Tenants United and the Right to Counsel Coalition. “For years now, Los Angeles County’s rental market has operated like the Wild West.
“With little to no protections for tenants, rent gouging, tenant harassment and evictions at a landlord’s whim have become commonplace. And, more corporate landlords clamoring for higher profits has fueled gentrification and resulted in skyrocketing rents that push people out of their homes.”
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, also laid blame for the problem at the feet of local policy makers, saying they have failed to take advantage of housing opportunities, such as vacant hotels that could be converted into shelters.
He called the increase in homelessness a “failure of imagination and will on the part of our city and county leadership.”
“It’s not a surprise that when we plunk these luxury projects in the middle of working-class areas, that pushes people out and eventually pushes them onto the street,” Weinstein said.
Rene Christian Moya, director of Housing is a Human Right — the AHF’s housing-advocacy division — said there needs to be a fundamental shift in decision-making that spurs gentrification and leads to soaring rents.
“Not only must L.A. politicians address the homeless crisis more urgently, but they need to implement community-based solutions that first and foremost help the most vulnerable,” Moya said. “We can’t continue the status quo of harmful trickle-down housing policies.”
City and county officials on Tuesday insisted that programs to add more affordable housing and shelters to help people transition off the streets are in the works, thanks to a pair of voter-approved funding measures, but the projects take time.
But they conceded that such projects aren’t keeping pace with rising rents and housing costs that are pushing more people into homelessness.
“This work has never been for the faint of heart, and we cannot let a set of difficult numbers discourage us or weaken our resolve,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “And I know that if we keep working together, believing in one another and caring for people in desperate situations, we will end homelessness in this city.”
Elise Buik, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said hope can be seen in the progress being made in putting homeless people into shelters over the past year, despite the overall increase in homeless figures.
“We are making exponential progress, with 21,631 people placed into permanent housing last year — nearly double the number in 2015,” Buik said. “And we tripled the number of people from 2015 who were engaged and interviewed by an outreach worker to 34,000 assessments. We know how we’ll get everyone in — more affordable and supportive housing in every community across L.A. County. And we’re going to need help from everyone to get there.”
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