The tragic recent L.A. County Homeless Count results released this week show that the challenge of homelessness in Los Angeles continues to get worse, with no signs of slowing down. What is abundantly clear from this data is that we have a regional housing crisis that is pushing tens of thousands of new people out onto the streets every year. If we continue to expect homelessness agencies to solve this problem without addressing our underlying housing shortage, we will continue to fail our city and our unhoused neighbors.
This problem, affecting people and families all over the county, is a crisis of epic proportions that demands large-scale solutions. It is not acceptable that so many of the people in our community are unhoused. It is the obligation and responsibility of residents and decision-makers throughout L.A. County to make sure everyone is able to live in secure, affordable housing.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the housing affordability crisis is driving a regional increase in homelessness. 721,000 households in Los Angeles are severely rent-burdened. Even with the most concerted effort to house the homeless that this city has ever seen (over 21,000 previously homeless people placed last year), our shortage-induced housing affordability crisis is forcing more people into homelessness than we are able to house.
City and state leaders who say they want to address this crisis but who are not leading efforts to protect tenants and dramatically accelerate the production of homes at all levels (both affordable and market rate) are not aligning their actions with their words.
The root cause of homelessness–the housing affordability crisis–must be addressed by policymakers at all levels of government. According to LAHSA’s presentation, Los Angeles needs 516,946 units of affordable housing just to meet the needs of today’s low-income renters. Our current housing policies are nowhere near providing affordable housing at these numbers. Through County and City of Los Angeles investments, only 10,000+ supportive and affordable units are in the pipeline.
In addition to low-income housing, we also must include market-rate housing as part of a broader solution, in order to reduce pressure on existing housing stock and help increase affordability of housing overall. Importantly, through programs like the density bonus, market-rate developments can include designated affordable units, which are instrumental to addressing our housing crisis. We can no longer ignore the role of market-rate housing in a complete housing solution.
Policies that preserve low-density housing stand in the way of efforts to address this crisis. We need to rapidly increase our housing stock, and we need to find immediate solutions to funding and creating affordable housing, while also increasing security and protections for renters.
To these ends, Abundant Housing LA recommends that jurisdictions in Los Angeles County implement the following solutions to address homelessness:
- Ban exclusionary single-family zoning throughout L.A. County by allowing at least four homes on all properties in all residential zones. According to a recent Los Angeles Times poll, 6 out of 10 Californians agree with a policy to end single-family-only zoning near transit and jobs.
- Expand and strengthen density-bonus programs, using the City of Los Angeles’ successful TOC program as a model, in order to rapidly create more affordable housing at no cost to taxpayers.
- Reduce barriers to housing production at all income levels by making most development by-right; reducing permitting times; eliminating minimum parking requirements; and making all commercial zoning mixed-use.
- Consider rent-control in jurisdictions without rent control/stabilization. At the least, this should be implemented on a temporary, emergency basis during the region’s housing and homelessness crises.
- Study and then implement non-discriminatory vacancy taxes which encourage utilization of existing housing stock and raise funds to provide more affordable housing.
- Adopt Just Cause Eviction Protections and Right to Counsel, including eviction prevention services and legal representation for tenants.
- Expand and strengthen emergency rental assistance to provide funds for households who temporarily cannot afford to pay their rent.
- Eliminate source of income discrimination so landlords cannot refuse to rent to households with housing vouchers.