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L.A. will eliminate 'veto' provision for homeless and affordable housing to keep state funding

L.A. will eliminate 'veto' provision for homeless and affordable housing to keep state funding
L.A. Councilwoman Nury Martinez withheld the required “letter of acknowledgment” for a proposed project on this lot in Sun Valley, arguing that the area already had a disproportionate share of homeless housing. The city is now taking steps to remove the letter requirement. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

To hang on to state funding, Los Angeles will eliminate a disputed requirement that gave city politicians the power to block funding for homeless housing in their districts.

The decision ends a longstanding practice that has drawn criticism from nonprofit groups that assist poor and homeless people: Under city regulations, L.A. has required developers seeking funding for homeless and affordable housing projects to obtain a “letter of acknowledgment” from the City Council member who represents the area.

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If a council member declined to provide the letter, a proposed project could not get crucial funding from the city. The Times found that council members have withheld the letter to block homeless housing projects in the San Fernando Valley, South Los Angeles and Westlake. In other cases, officials have used the letter as leverage to push developers to make changes to their building plans.

Council members argued that the letter gave them a valuable opportunity to raise neighborhood concerns and build community support for proposed projects early in the development process. Critics sued the city over the rule, denouncing it as an unfair and arbitrary “pocket veto” that could quietly squelch housing for the poor.

Then the state stepped in: California legislators passed a new law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month, that will soon ban state money or tax credits from being awarded to any housing development that is saddled with such a requirement. The new rules take effect in January.

In response, Council President Herb Wesson proposed that the requirement be removed from city regulations for Proposition HHH, a $1.2-billion bond to fund homeless housing, along with other funding streams for affordable housing. The council voted 11 to 0 on Tuesday to do so, instructing the housing department to take any steps needed to eliminate the requirement.

“After both a lawsuit and legislation, today the city finally took action to rescind an illegal requirement that has for years stopped, delayed and altered desperately needed housing for homeless and low-income residents," Public Counsel staff attorney Faizah Malik said in a statement following the Tuesday vote.

But Malik and other attorneys with Public Counsel, which helped represent the community group that sued L.A. over the rule, were concerned that the council had also directed the housing department to come up with new recommendations for how council members and neighborhood councils could provide “meaningful input” on proposed funding for housing projects in their area.

In a letter to Wesson this week, Malik warned that coming up with a new kind of “pocket veto” over homeless or affordable housing would be illegal. Los Angeles needs to do more than simply roll back the requirement, which does not “remedy against past harms, protect against new backroom vetoes, or ensure that subsidized housing won’t be treated differently from other housing,” Malik said Tuesday.

“It needs to stop discriminating against these projects and assure that they are not illegally blocked, conditioned or delayed,” Malik concluded.

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