In an attempt to save the dwindling stock of low-cost housing on Skid Row, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley on Thursday proposed a measure aimed at preventing more demolitions of single-room-occupancy hotels in the city’s neighborhood of last resort.
“These hotels are our last defense against homelessness,” Bradley said in a City Hall press conference to announce his plan. If the council approves, owners will not be allowed to tear down the hotels unless they pay the city $25,000 per room or build replacement housing in the area.
Officials believe that the two-year measure will virtually halt the destruction of these hotels, known in street and bureaucratic shorthand as SROs.
Threat of Demolition
Dozens of such hotels have been torn down in the last two decades, and scores more face the threat of demolition as development forces close in on the neighborhood from Little Tokyo on the north and the Central City business district on the west.
A typical 10-foot by 12- to 14-foot room--with a sink and bathing and toilet facilities down the hall--rents for between $200 and $300 a month. Owners do not require deposits or last month’s rent up front. Some of Skid Row’s SROs are clean, quiet and well maintained. But others are plagued by roaches, rodents, drug dealers and occasionally prostitutes.
Many of the tenants, who can rent by the month or by the week, are on pensions, Social Security or welfare programs and cannot afford to spend much more on housing. The county’s General Relief program, for instance, pays $312 to $349 per month.
‘Just Scraping By’
There are typically more vacancies near the end of the month, when money is short, than early in the month, when the welfare and General Relief checks are cashed.
“It’s people who are just scraping by,” said Mike Neely of the Skid Row-based Homeless Outreach Project.
“This ordinance will protect these tenants,” Bradley said. “When an SRO hotel is demolished, tenants are often forced onto the streets.”
“They are the last rung on the housing ladder,” said Councilman Michael Woo, who will introduce the measure in the council
Recent attempts by the City Council to save the SROs have been ineffective and actually provided unintended incentives for some landowners to simply let their properties deteriorate or fall victim to mysterious fires, city housing chief Gary Squire said.
‘Do It Right or Pay Off’
But Bradley’s proposal will force the hotel owners to “do it right or pay off the city,” Neely said.
The move was applauded by housing activists. Despite its tough enforcement provisions, it was not immediately challenged by area business interests.
The city’s shrinking stock of SRO hotels houses an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 poor, aging and often disabled residents, according to estimates by the Skid Row Housing Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the remaining 75 hotels in the 50-block area east of downtown.
The SRO hotel residents differ somewhat from the general Skid Row population in that they are generally older--in their 40s, 50s and 60s--and the population is more racially balanced than the streets, where most residents are black, according to Neely and others.
Home for Decades
Some residents make their homes in the SRO hotels for years, some for decades. And that is what makes Skid Row a community, said Alice Callaghan, founder of the Skid Row Housing Trust.
The trust has organized nonprofit organizations to purchase and rehabilitate three SRO hotels on Skid Row and is in escrow to buy two more. The trust and its partners are negotiating to buy an additional two SROs and they hope to buy many more.
The Community Redevelopment Agency, which is often criticized for not providing enough new low-cost housing in Los Angeles, has created the SRO Corp., which has purchased a dozen area hotels for rehabilitation.