A shelter in all 15 of LA’s council districts? Maybe not

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Roughly one year after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans for an emergency shelter program to address the city’s homeless crisis, representatives from two council districts haven’t yet proposed a single site where a shelter could be built.

Both districts—six and 12—are in the San Fernando Valley, where the number of homeless residents rose last year, in spite of a slight countywide drop in homelessness.

Last April, the mayor promised to make funds available to build at least one shelter in each of the city’s 15 council districts, with enough beds to house up to 6,000 homeless residents each year.

So far, 13 City Councilmembers have ordered the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering to assess 24 sites for development of shelters. Eight councilmembers have proposed multiple sites, and one—Mitch O’Farrell—has overseen construction of two shelters in his district that are now fully completed.

Across the city, three shelters are open and construction is expected to wrap up on six more in the coming months.

Colin Sweeney, communications director for District 12 Councilmember Greig Smith, tells Curbed that finding available land for shelter housing in the district has been a challenge. He says the council office compiled a list of available properties owned by the city, but found that all were located in areas zoned for single-family residences or agriculture.

In other parts of the city, elected officials have been able to negotiate lease agreements with private property owners allowing the city to construct shelters at these sites. But Sweeney says the council office hasn’t found a property owner willing to work with the city on such a project.

“As the council office is not a developer, we cannot force a supportive housing project if a private property owner isn’t interested and if there is no city-owned land that meets the criteria,” he writes in an email.

District 12, represented until the end of last year by Mitchell Englander, includes Northridge, Chatsworth, and Granada Hills. The district has made a similar lack of progress in building housing funded by Measure HHH. Approved by voters in 2016, the ballot measure raised funds to accelerate construction of affordable housing for homeless residents.

Last year, the City Council unanimously approved an agreement committing to construct at least 222 units of supportive housing in each member’s district. However, a tracker maintained by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles shows that, so far, not a single unit of that housing has been approved in District 12.

Sweeney says high land value and zoning requirements “greatly reduces options for such development,” though he maintains that Smith “remains open to considering any and all projects and opportunities available.”

To the southeast, in District Six, 116 units have been approved. But Councilmember Nury Martinez, who represents the area—encompassing Van Nuys, Panorama City, Arleta, and Sun Valley—has also avoided pinning down a possible shelter location.

According to an annual count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the number of homeless residents in the district spiked 39 percent last year—though LAHSA spokesperson Tom Waldman told Curbed last year that temporary housing vouchers distributed in North Hollywood might account for some of that increase.

A spokesperson for Martinez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When Garcetti launched the shelter program, called A Bridge Home, the mayor did not include a requirement that a housing center be constructed in each council district, but said that only districts where shelters were built would get program money set aside for sanitation and law enforcement.

On Tuesday, Christina Miller, deputy mayor for city homelessness initiatives, told reporters that the scope of the program had changed since then, with more funding now available through state grants.

“We’re really focused on getting these 24 projects up and running, and less about the budget mechanics,” she said.

Getting the projects going hasn’t always been easy. Preliminary plans for shelters in Koreatown and Sherman Oaks were scrapped after residents in those areas protested the projects. Planned shelters in Wilmington, San Pedro, and Venice have also drawn opposition from neighbors—though city officials haven’t abandoned those proposals.

Last year, Garcetti suggested that 15 shelters could open by the end of the current fiscal year (July). Miller said Tuesday that, while 15 shelters won’t be finished by then, the city aims to have at least that many open or under construction.

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