California

L.A. is getting millions in state money for homelessness. Now L.A. politicians want more

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2018: Los Angeles city council member Mitch O’Farrell s
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California lawmakers agreed this month to hand over $650 million to big cities, counties and regional agencies to help fight homelessness.

Now some Los Angeles officials say they want more. Much more.

At a news conference Wednesday, City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell urged the state to match the $1.2-billion bond measure that L.A. voters approved in 2016 to build homeless housing, contending that the additional money could be pulled from the state’s reserves.

That funding would be on top of whatever L.A. gets out of the $650 million already being allocated to cities and counties by the state, which was approved just weeks ago. O’Farrell said the money could be used to double the 10,000 units that the city had aimed to build with the help of its bond measure, Proposition HHH.

“It’s not as though the work isn’t being done,” O’Farrell added at a council meeting later Wednesday. “It’s just that we’re taking a step forward and two steps back because of the growing numbers” of homeless people.

His push comes on the heels of the announcement that homelessness surged 16% in Los Angeles this year, a sobering increase despite millions of dollars in public spending on the crisis. At a Wednesday meeting, city and county officials reiterated that in recent years the number of homeless people who are being housed has dramatically increased.

But “Angelenos are falling into homelessness at a faster rate than they ever have due to multiple crises in housing affordability, in poverty, in challenges within our foster system, our criminal justice system and in our healthcare system,” Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, told the council.

Getting another $1.2 billion would be a huge — if unlikely — boost for L.A. Last year, the city received $85 million in a one-time infusion of $500 million for local governments from the state to reduce homelessness.

This year, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the leaders of other major California cities pushed the state to boost that allocation, successfully persuading the governor and legislators to set aside $650 million. What L.A.’s cut will be is still being decided.

L.A. also stands to benefit from other state initiatives, including Proposition 2, the $2-billion homeless housing bond that voters approved in November.

O’Farrell didn’t specify who in Sacramento he had spoken to about his proposal, but said he had been in contact with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, which did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment. The councilman publicly called on the Los Angeles delegation in the state Legislature to be advocates for his plan, and he said he would be going to the state capital soon to knock on doors.

O’Farrell announced his plan ahead of a lengthy hearing at City Hall, where the City Council spent the bulk of its Wednesday meeting dissecting the results of the latest homeless point-in-time count.

“It feels like we’re losing the battle,” said Councilman Curren Price, who represents part of South L.A. “High rents. Low-paying jobs. NIMBYism. Ineffective policies at the federal and state level. And while, yes, we have made some substantial headway in determining some of the root causes ... the headlines don’t lie.”

He and other council members ruminated about a wide range of issues, including finding ways to link homeless people with their families, the needs of mentally ill Angelenos and the toll of state laws, such as the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict renters from apartments if they are getting out of the rental business.

”We frankly need to push every single member of the L.A. delegation and really call them out if they don’t join us in this effort,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents parts of the Westside, calling for the Ellis Act to be reformed.

O’Farrell contended that his push for an additional $1.2 billion was “very reasonable for Los Angeles, when we are 25% of the state population in Los Angeles County.”

He pointed out that California has a projected cash reserves of about $20 billion and suggested that maybe he should be asking for more.

Using matching dollars as an incentive for cities to spend more on building housing is a great idea, said Christopher Martin, a legislative advocate on homelessness at Housing California, an advocacy group focused on homelessness and housing. But Martin, who is based in Sacramento, said allocating that much more money seems like a tough sell politically.

“It’s pretty difficult to get that type of money, ” Martin said of the Legislature.

On Wednesday, O’Farrell introduced a resolution that calls for the city to advocate for the additional $1.2 billion. Council President Herb Wesson seconded it.

Asked whether the mayor supported O’Farrell’s plan, Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar said in a statement that his office was still reviewing the proposal, but the mayor “will continue to seek additional state resources to respond to this crisis.”

Council members also unveiled a grab bag of other proposals to tackle the crisis.

Price asked city officials to look into one-time cash assistance for people at risk of homelessness, pointing to programs in Chicago and New York City.

Councilmen Jose Huizar and David Ryu called on Los Angeles County to explore legislation to appoint conservators for people incapable of caring for themselves because of severe mental illness. O’Farrell also wants to convene a conference on poverty to come up with ideas to prevent people from sliding into homelessness in the first place.

Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley, urged the city to look into incentives for housing developers to agree to rent a minimum number of units in their buildings to Section 8 households. And Wesson called on city officials to explore using a 3-D printer to construct housing for homeless people.

Although council members applauded the work of outreach workers and others trying to tackle the crisis, the lengthy meeting was also punctuated with moments of frustration. Councilman Joe Buscaino expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of shelter construction and other efforts.

“We’re not moving quickly enough. If this year’s homeless numbers don’t qualify as an emergency,” Buscaino said, “then I no longer know what is.”

Times staff writer Liam Dillon contributed to this report.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlpertReyes