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Councilman Kevin de León wants 25,000 housing units for homeless by 2025

L.A. City Councilman Kevin de León aims to create 25,000 new housing units for homeless people by 2025.
L.A. City Councilman Kevin De León will introduce motions Tuesday aimed at creating 25,000 new housing units for homeless people by 2025.
(David Butow / Redux Pictures)

When the Los Angeles City Council opens its 2021 term on Tuesday, Councilman Kevin de León will introduce a range of motions with the goal of creating 25,000 new housing units for homeless people by 2025.

The former state Senate president pro tem made homelessness a centerpiece of his run for the seat that represents skid row and includes the most homeless people in the city of Los Angeles. Since he took office in October, he’s repeatedly stated that local government lacks a “North Star” in its quest to solve the homelessness crisis.

In an interview, De León was light on details about how the city might generate enough housing to almost double the number of units available to homeless people. Still, he said it was useful to have an ambitious but attainable goal that elected officials and the public could rely on as a yardstick for success and failure.

“It’s very important that we have a benchmark,” said De León. “Something that’s real concrete, and that you can [use to] measure our success or lack thereof.... I think it’s really critical.”

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With the motions that will be introduced Tuesday, De León is attempting to tackle problems that experts agree contribute to the homelessness crisis: A lethargic and convoluted system for permitting and approving housing projects. Not making full use of publicly owned lands. An insufficient supply of interim and temporary housing amid a pandemic that’s made living in shelters dangerous. A wave of evictions that could come as a result of the pandemic-driven economic downturn.

And, finally, the frustratingly slow progress of housing projects funded by Proposition HHH — the $1.2-billion bond for homeless housing that Los Angeles voters approved more than four years ago. So far just seven projects totaling 489 units have opened.

Kevin de León was elected in March to represent L.A.'s 14th Council District, succeeding Jose Huizar, who faces racketeering, bribery and other charges.

“Angelenos overwhelmingly voted to tax themselves to support their unhoused neighbors in approving Measure HHH,” said newly elected Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who is co-sponsoring some of the motions with De León and who also made homelessness a major issue in her recent campaign. “If we as a city fail to ensure these tax dollars are spent in the most effective way possible, it will become harder to assemble the additional resources we will surely need to take on this enormous crisis.”

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Proposition HHH was a central part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to address homelessness, and he’s been criticized for the slow pace of construction and the continued growth of the city’s homeless population. There has been rampant speculation that De León will run for mayor next year, as Garcetti reaches the end of his last term, and housing and homelessness are sure to be major issues. The 54-year old batted away discussion of that prospect, but did not deny an interest in running.

Many of De León’s solutions aren’t new and would require the help of the county, state and federal governments. For example, he’s joined a chorus of Democrats, including President-elect Joe Biden, in calling for an expansion of housing vouchers and more direct aid to protect the homeless from COVID-19 and help others who are suffering because of the pandemic.

He hoped that money could be used at least in part to fund more relief for renters who are behind, and one of his motions would create a system for prioritizing who would receive money to help pay back rent or late mortgage payments. The idea is that when the eviction moratorium is lifted, people could plan rather than hope “to win a lottery,” he said.

De León also applauded the state’s effort to purchase apartment buildings, along with motels and hotels, for homeless people last year through Project Homekey. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget includes $750 million for more of these purchases, and De León wants the city to make more such acquisitions — though he declined to state an exact figure for the city funds he’d like to see spent on the effort.

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Several experiences inform De León’s work on the issue. He was raised by a mother who cleaned a wealthy retirement community and sometimes struggled to pay the rent, and he suffered the loss of a half-sister who was homeless in San Diego and struggled with an addiction to crystal meth before her death.

He also cited work on legislation and a bond measure with Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who, like De León, once served as president pro tem of the state Senate. They redirected tax revenue to help fund a bond measure to construct supportive housing linked to services and treatment for people with serious mental illness.

De León thinks something similar might be possible with money from HHH. He argued that the need for housing is urgent and it must be built faster. His critique broadly echoes the findings of a report issued by City Controller Ron Galperin last year that found the average cost of building a single unit of homeless housing in Los Angeles is now $531,000.

One of De León’s motions asks the city attorney to detail options for the city to withdraw funding for HHH projects if they haven’t yet broken ground or if the developers haven’t yet entered into loan agreements with the city. Another asks for a more detailed breakdown of the status of each project.

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“I’d rather claw back dollars and say, ‘We’re going to spend an average of $150,00 or $175,000 on prefabricated or modular housing units that can be built within three months,” he said.

“And we can start moving folks into those housing units, not in three years, or five years, but in three months.”

Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.


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