LA gearing up to spend $336M to build 2,998 apartments for homeless residents

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Los Angeles lawmakers are queuing up $335.8 million to help build nearly 3,000affordable apartments across the city for homeless Angelenos—including contested plans for the first homeless housing in the northwest San Fernando Valley.

The money will come from Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond that voters approved in 2016 to build 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing.

The Los Angeles City Council’s homelessness and poverty committee voted Wednesday evening to commit the money to developers of 38 affordable projects, with a combined 2,998 units. The vast majority will be permanent supportive housing, meaning they will come with on-site services.

The “criticism and frustration” that it’s taking a while to build Measure HHH housing is warranted, said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who chairs the committee.

“Let’s get these going,” he said.

Developers will use letters of funding commitments from the city to cobble together financing from other lenders, and plans for individual projects will still have to be approved by city officials.

Some of the buildings will come with special amenities, including, in one case, an on-site health clinic, and in another, a market.

Of the supportive housing units, 975 would be built as part of the city’s “Housing Innovation Challenge,” a competition that challenged developers to come up with “unique” and “alternative” ways to build affordable housing more cheaply and quickly.

Among the six finalists are plans for an affordable bungalow court in South LA and the conversion of three existing “blighted or underutilized” non-residential sites, such as a church, into studios.

The full City Council needs to sign off on the funding commitments—and if it does, there will be no Measure HHH money left, according to Yolanda Chavez, assistant city administrative officer. The total number of HHH-funded units in the pipeline would stand at 8,625; 6,858 are supportive.

But it’s possible the City Council will reject funding for at least one of the projects. Newly-elected councilmember John Lee has pressed for a delay in the approval of $8.3 million to build 64 studio apartments with on-site services on Topanga Boulevard in Chatsworth. He wants more time to gather community feedback on the proposal. The homelessness and poverty committee denied his request.

At the same time, however, it’s giving Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents portions of South LA, a four-week delay in consideration of funding for two of four projects proposed in his district.

If two of the four move forward, Harris-Dawson said his district will have “in excess of 600” approved permanent supportive units. The Topanga apartments in Chatsworth are the first Measure HHH project pitched in Lee’s 12th district.

Harris-Dawson said it would be “absolutely insulting” for his request to be conflated with Lee’s.

Last year, City Councilmembers pledged to build at least 222 units of permanent supportive housing in each of their 15 districts over the next three years. (Lee, who was elected in August to fill a seat vacated by Mitch Englander, was not on the council at the time).

“We have a huge crisis, we need to build everywhere,” said Councilmember David Ryu.

No one, except a staffer from Lee’s office, spoke against the Topanga apartments at Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“If not that, what? If not there, where? If not now, when?” asked The Congregational Church of Chatsworth Rev. Bill Freeman. “Chatsworth, as I understand, doesn’t have any housing for the homeless, and it certainly needs it. I hope it’s just the first of many for Chatsworth.”

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