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Bass looks to buy a 15-story hotel as she ramps up her fight against homelessness

Mayor Karen Bass chats with a woman who lives in a tent on a sidewalk behind the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Mayor Karen Bass chats with Jawonna Smith, who was living in a tent on a sidewalk behind the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Smith moved into a motel in February as part of the “Inside Safe” program.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’ homelessness team is looking to purchase a 15-story hotel in the city’s Westlake neighborhood, the latest big expenditure planned as part of her “Inside Safe” program.

In a memo sent to the council’s Budget, Finance and Innovation Committee, Bass and her team acknowledged they are seeking to acquire the 294-room Mayfair Hotel, which served for two years as interim homeless housing before closing its doors last summer. The building has been listed for nearly $70 million in recent months.

Bass and her team declined to say how much the city has offered, saying the price will be revealed when the transaction goes before the city’s municipal facilities committee next month. They said the hotel would serve as a critical tool in the city’s fight against homelessness, helping to reduce the leasing costs associated with Inside Safe, which has moved about 1,200 people off the street and into hotels, motels and other facilities.

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If the city finalizes the purchase, the Mayfair would be a key part of the city’s effort to create “permanent interim housing” — city-owned residential buildings where homeless people can live for up to a year before finding their own apartments.

Under the proposal, the city would provide an array of services on the Mayfair’s ground floor — substance abuse counselors, mental health clinicians and public health workers, Bass said.

“There’s no shortcut to do this. You can warehouse people in a shelter if you want, and they’ll stay there for a couple of days and they’ll be right back out on the street,” Bass said. “We have to think outside of the box, and maybe a little bit outside of the boundaries of what the city is normally doing.”

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A broker representing the Mayfair referred questions to Alex Moradi, an executive with the ICO Group of Companies. Moradi did not respond to several requests for comment.

However, Bass’ homelessness team confirmed that the city signed a nonbinding letter of intent with Mayfair Lofts, the hotel’s owner, three weeks ago. That company is affiliated with ICO, according to information provided by the county assessor’s office.

Bass has asked the council to allocate $250 million for Inside Safe, which has targeted encampments in Hollywood, Venice, South Los Angeles and other parts of the city, in next year’s budget. That figure does not include any money that would be needed to purchase the Mayfair. If the sale goes through, the cost of Inside Safe could exceed $300 million for the coming budget year.

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A bicyclist rides past the Mayfair Hotel, a 15-story hotel in L.A.'s Westlake neighborhood.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, who serves on the council’s budget committee, endorsed the idea of purchasing hotels and motels, saying the city will need “thousands and thousands of units” to address its crisis.

Yaroslavsky said her office has tried repeatedly without success to lease hotels and motels in her affluent Westside district. But paying rent to motel owners is also “not a good long-term strategy,” she said.

“The logistics of trying to negotiate one-off [agreements] with hundreds of motel owners puts us in a bad bargaining position,” she said. “When we go one by one, we’re not optimizing our buying power.”

On Wednesday, Bass and Yaroslavsky went to the mayor’s 16th Inside Safe operation, located along a stretch of San Vicente Boulevard in L.A.’s Beverly Grove neighborhood, which is part of Yaroslavsky’s district. Nearly two dozen tents had taken hold on San Vicente’s median strips and other rights of way.

Jeremy Mosley, who had been living on one of those medians, said Wednesday he was ready to make the move. But he sounded unsure about relocating to a motel in South Los Angeles, more than a dozen miles away.

“I want to see what it’s like. Because this does look bad. I know it does,” he said, gesturing to the furniture, tarps and other possessions that occupied the median.

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The mayor’s proposed homelessness budget for the coming year lists four separate line items for the acquisition of interim housing, which add up to $73 million. Bass’ team declined to say whether all or a portion of those funds would go toward the Mayfair.

Those funds are not included in the $250 million being requested for Inside Safe.

The Mayfair was the site of a $37-million renovation in 2018 and 2019, according to the property’s real estate listing. In 2020, it became one of several hotels across the city to participate in Project Roomkey, a federally funded program that moved homeless Angelenos off the streets as part of the nation’s response to the outbreak of COVID-19.

City leaders voted to end the Project Roomkey program last year. But several of the locations that participated in the program continue to serve as temporary housing for L.A.’s homeless population.

Last fall, the council voted to keep the Highland Gardens Hotel operating as temporary homeless housing at least through June 30. That facility, located in the Hollywood Hills, offers 72 rooms, or up to 143 beds.

The city is in talks to purchase the Mayfair Hotel, a 15-story hotel in Westlake.
The Mayfair Hotel, a 15-story hotel in the Westlake/MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Mayor Karen Bass’ team is in talks to purchase the building to use as interim homeless housing.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo said the hotel will probably remain as interim homeless housing through 2025, at a cost of about $6 million per year. At that facility, leasing costs are about $4,550 per room per month, according to a report to the council. Once social services offered by PATH, or People Assisting The Homeless, are included, the monthly room cost exceeds $7,000.

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Mayor Karen Bass called Councilmember Bob Blumenfield’s budget strategy a “throwback to the past,” when City Hall acted with a lack of urgency on homelessness.

May 6, 2023

Councilmember Nithya Raman, who represents the Hollywood Hills, worked to secure Highland Gardens before Bass took office. Bass, for her part, was closely involved in the effort to retain another Project Roomkey hotel, the L.A. Grand in downtown Los Angeles.

The L.A. Grand was originally slated to close as temporary homeless housing on Jan. 31. Bass’ team succeeded in leasing 481 rooms at that facility for an additional year. The monthly cost of a room, which includes not just lodging but also meals, is $154 per night, or nearly $4,700 per month, according to a memo provided to the council last month.

The council would need to sign off on a purchase of the Mayfair. Meanwhile, at least one former Mayfair resident is objecting to the proposed acquisition.

Cynthia “Mama Cat” Trahan, 62, who lived in the Mayfair for about four months, said Project Roomkey staff treated the hotel’s temporary guests with “very little respect,” searching them when they entered the building and sometimes going into their rooms without permission, she said.

Buying the hotel is “just not a good idea,” said Trahan, who now lives in an apartment in Glendale.

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“We should be investing in putting people in apartments, not hotel rooms,” she said.

VIDEO | 06:21
LA Times Today: Bass looks to buy a 15-story hotel as she ramps up her fight against homelessness

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.

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