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A team of volunteers passes out the Burrito Project burritos on Skid Row.EXPAND
A team of volunteers passes out the Burrito Project burritos on Skid Row.
Courtesy Greenbar Distillery

L.A. Officials Oppose Federal Proposal to Raise Rents on Low-Wage Earners

As the homeless population continues to skyrocket, two recent events underscore the dramatically disparate approaches that municipal and federal officials are taking to address housing.

Last month, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced to great fanfare in his State of the City address that his administration would be appropriating $429 million to help fund permanent and temporary shelter and to access social services and facilities to get the homeless off the streets.

An estimated 25,237 people are homeless in Los Angeles. "Homelessness is the moral and humanitarian crisis of our time, and we will confront it with historic investments in getting unsheltered Angelenos off the street," Garcetti said in a statement. "My budget also doubles down on the kinds of improvements — like better streets and sidewalks — that Angelenos can see and feel in their neighborhoods, and strengthens our commitment to protecting the city against another economic downturn."

Contrast that with what Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson advocated during a recent visit to Los Angeles. Carson is pushing for legislation that would increase rents among low-wage earners by 5 percent — in some cases tripling a family's rent.

According to research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzed HUD data of the proposal, rents would be raised on approximately 1.7 million people, including the families of 970,000 children.

Nearly 2,000 more people would fall into homelessness in Los Angeles if rents increased by an average of 5 percent, according to an analysis by online real estate database company Zillow.

In an interview with the conservative website Town Hall, Carson pushed back on the idea that the Trump administration's proposal would create more homeless families. "I would first of all say nobody's going to be put on the streets. We've gone through the numbers very carefully to make sure that that doesn't happen," he said. "We've made sure that rents are not increased for the elderly or the disabled."

Second District Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Fourth District County Supervisor Janice Hahn pushed back on Carson's proposal with a letter that came before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The board voted unanimously to oppose the "Make Affordable Housing Work Act."

"This proposal could have a devastating effect on Los Angeles County, which has one of the nation's least affordable housing markets, and as a result, the largest homeless population. These proposed changes could further compound the financial and housing insecurities faced by lower-income families throughout the county, leaving families at higher risk of homelessness and compounding the stress on other government systems including, health, public safety, social services and homeless services," the supervisors wrote.

Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas penned a letter criticizing the federal government's proposal.EXPAND
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas penned a letter criticizing the federal government's proposal.
Courtesy Janice Hahn campaign

"There is a need to reform the existing, archaic provisions that regulate public housing, but this work should be done in collaboration and coordination with local public housing authorities in order to develop a plan that meaningfully and thoughtfully lifts individuals and families out of poverty instead of exacerbate the crisis."

Despite the mayor's budget allocation, not everyone is ready to applaud him.

Homelessness spiked by 23 percent countywide last year, leaping to 57,794.

But city and county officials are hoping for better news within the next several months because of funding from city Proposition HHH, a 2016 parcel tax measure that will raise $1.2 billion over 10 years to build affordable housing, and county Measure H, a 2017 initiative that will raise $355 million annually for homeless services, including rapid rehousing and mental health services, by raising the sales tax.

Through Measure H funding, over $111.5 million has been recommended for housing subsidies for fiscal year 2018-19.

Despite Carson's claims, affordable housing advocates say other market factors and even some current laws have facilitated a growth in numbers of the homeless. Some point to provisions in the Ellis Act, a 1986 state law that allows landlords to legally evict tenants with advanced notice if they plan to leave the rental market and not enter it again for at least five years.

Landlords and apartment association supporters say the law allows small business owners to protect their investments and leave the market if they are not able to make a profit.

But some try to evade the law, and evicted tenants can wind up on the streets. Landlords have filed Ellis Act declarations to evict tenants from more than 23,000 rent-stabilized housing units in the city of Los Angeles since 2001, according to the affordable housing nonprofit Coalition for Economic Survival.

"It's just the tip of the iceberg," said Coalition for Economic Survival Executive Director Larry Gross. "As a result of the Ellis Act, displacement has continued and the hardships for renters have continued. You can see it in the numbers. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better."

The 2018 homeless county numbers will be released on May 31.

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