Julián Castro tours L.A.’s skid row to talk about his housing plan

Chris Smith greets former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro on L.A.'s skid row.
Chris Smith, left, greets former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro during the candidate’s tour of L.A.’s skid row on Wednesday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A day before seven Democrats were preparing to debate in L.A., one presidential candidate who won’t be on stage spent time touring skid row to witness firsthand the housing crisis battering the city.

Julián Castro did not qualify for the debate at Loyola Marymount University, falling short of qualifying polls. But on Wednesday he made his way through part of L.A.’s homeless community, pausing to talk with people on the streets.

He toured the stained sidewalks of Crocker Street. A man wearing a black UFC baseball cap called out to him by name, and Castro introduced himself as the former Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Obama. The man said he had seen him on the news.


“What are you going to do differently than anybody else?” he asked.

“I actually put out the boldest housing plan to try and end homelessness by 2028, by creating a lot more housing opportunities for everyone,” Castro replied. “That’s why I wanted to come out here.”

The former San Antonio mayor’s plan, People First Housing, declares that housing is a human right and aims to end chronic homelessness. His campaign has emphasized reaching out to marginalized and overlooked communities, like homeless people and people of color.

Other candidates also have put out housing policy plans. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who released a general housing plan in July, expanded on her plan on Thursday in Santa Monica.

Many of the Democratic candidates for president rarely mention the housing crisis. Some have released bold plans; others have so far promised little or nothing.

Dec. 17, 2019

Castro is the third presidential candidate who has publicly toured skid row this year, said Lisa Marlow, communications coordinator of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a nonprofit that is tracking the candidates’ statements on housing. Vermont Sen. Sanders toured in August and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out of the presidential race last month, visited in September.

California’s housing crisis continues to swell, fueled by rising rents. This year, L.A. County saw a surge in the number of people sleeping on the streets, in shelters or in their cars, rising to nearly 59,000. More than 36,000 people are homeless in the city of Los Angeles. On skid row, tents and blue tarps line the sidewalks and shopping carts overflow with items.

Castro said he had visited previously as housing secretary, and believes that the Trump administration — which is considering using law enforcement to clear homeless encampments as part of a federal plan — has taken a hostile stance against the homeless population. As president, Castro said, he would work to reverse the administration’s decisions.


Castro’s absence from the debate stage, however, could make campaigning harder as he misses an opportunity to reach a national audience. His campaign said he would be live-tweeting from San Antonio during the debate.

Asked whether his campaign had enough cash to compete in the Iowa caucuses in February, Castro said yes.

“Obviously our campaign has been making the most of the resources that we have,” he said.