Bringing People Together to Fight Homelessness in Los Angeles
Homelessness in Los Angeles is highly visible and widespread, with year-over-year increases prompting increased public concern. The clear urgency of the problem prompted a coalition of public, private, and philanthropic partners, including the California Community Foundation (CCF), the Kresge Foundation, the Weingart Foundation, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and the city of Los Angeles, to join forces under the aegis of the Accelerating Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative. The initiative’s goal, appropriate to the scale and urgency of the problem, is to produce 10,000 new supportive housing units in Los Angeles over 10 years, more than tripling the city’s current annual production. A $16 million commitment from the foundations was crucial to securing public buy-in; in addition, the four nonprofits provided data and analysis supporting ballot measures to increase public funding for producing and operating permanent supportive housing units in Los Angeles. Initiative partners also helped reduce regulatory barriers to construct more units quickly. In recognition of the initiative’s efforts to address homelessness in Los Angeles, CCF accepted a 2019 HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships. One of the first supportive housing developments benefiting from these efforts opened in January 2020, reflecting the faster production targets that will meet the ambitious goal of 10,000 units by 2027.
Advocating Solutions to Homelessness
The 2015 Point-in-Time (PIT) homelessness survey for Los Angeles County showed that homelessness was increasing rapidly, rising 12 percent over the 2013 PIT count. Particularly alarming was an 85 percent increase in the number of unsheltered people living on sidewalks, in tents, in makeshift shelters, or in vehicles, making the problem clearly visible to county residents. According to Ben Winter, senior program officer for housing and economic opportunity at CCF, solving this problem became an urgent concern for the public, elected officials, and the nonprofit community. CCF, through three decades of experimentation with housing approaches, could vouch for the efficacy of the permanent supportive housing model and push for broader implementation. Because the need was so enormous, the initiative partners and public officials agreed that the rate of production needed to increase from 300 permanent supportive housing units annually to 1,000 units annually to ensure that 10,000 supportive housing units would be available within 10 years, a goal requiring slightly more than $100 million annually to achieve.
That level of production required a public commitment, and in fall 2016, city voters were presented with Proposition HHH, which would establish a $1.2 billion bond to fund 10,000 new supportive housing units over 10 years. To help sway public opinion, CCF issued only its second endorsement of a ballot measure in a century and contributed $450,000 to support the public advocacy campaign; the United Way also played a significant role in securing voter approval, according to Winter. Shortly after city voters approved Proposition HHH, voters across Los Angeles County endorsed a related ballot question in spring 2017, Measure H, which instituted a quarter-cent sales tax to generate an estimated $355 million per year for 10 years to fund the services integral to supportive housing. The measure is expected to help approximately 45,000 households access permanent housing over a 5-year period.
New Land Use Policies for Supportive Housing
Another of the initiative’s strategies is to change land use policies to remove barriers to the development of supportive housing. Better policies can stretch existing funding and hasten development. Initiative partners and other nonprofits, including CCF, the Hilton Foundation, and the United Way, were key to securing passage of the city’s Permanent Supportive Housing Ordinance in 2017, which expedites design review and eases zoning requirements for affordable housing developments that reserve at least half of their units for supportive housing. The ordinance allows planning department staff to approve supportive housing developments that meet certain design and construction criteria. Zoning incentives for these developments include a reduction of up to 20 percent in minimum required setbacks and open spaces; an increase of up to 20 percent in maximum allowed lot coverage; and an increase of up to 35 percent in allowed building height and floor area ratio. In addition, the ordinance requires no parking for the formerly homeless residents and reduces parking requirements for low-income residents to zero or one space per unit depending on the development’s location. The ordinance also expands the applicability of these regulations, previously granted only to buildings containing fewer than 50 units, to projects with 200 units if located in the downtown or regional commercial areas and projects with 120 units if located elsewhere in the city. The ordinance is expected to spur the development of more than 200 units of supportive housing annually.
The initiative includes an effort to ensure that the approved funding is used quickly. A faster development pipeline will house people more quickly while delivering the results that the voters hoped for when they endorsed the new funding, says Winter. To ensure that developers have the capacity to undertake the 10 to 15 additional projects needed to construct 1,000 supportive housing units annually, the initiative will provide grants for developers to hire project managers and other staff. The initiative also assembled $20 million in loans, complementing an additional $40 million provided through the city’s Supportive Housing Loan Fund, for acquisition and project predevelopment, which private lenders are often reluctant to offer. In addition, CCF has created the Home L.A. Loan Fund, which supplements other private and public funding for seed capital loans for affordable housing providers. This money has supported more than 2,100 units across 32 housing developments since 2017.
Construction has begun for projects benefiting from the compressed development timeline and new funding. One of the first projects to be completed, the 88th & Vermont apartment complex, opened in January 2020. Developed by the Los Angeles nonprofit Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS), the 2 buildings include 46 units reserved for individuals, families, and transition-age youth who formerly experienced homelessness and earn no more than 30 percent of the area median income; these units are subsidized through federal project-based vouchers and funds from the county’s Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool. An additional 14 units are available for households earning no more than 40 percent of the area median income. 88th & Vermont is also the first affordable housing development using funds from the city’s Transit Oriented Communities Affordable Housing Incentives program. In addition, 88th & Vermont includes facilities for youth living in the underresourced neighborhood.
The Accelerating Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative shows that significant results can occur when philanthropic and nonprofit organizations strategically complement the public sector to achieve a shared, evidence-based vision. The 88th & Vermont apartment complex demonstrates this effect; according to Winters, the project’s approval and construction took only three years rather than the typical five to seven years before regulatory reform and enhanced funding. Progress toward the initiative’s 10,000-unit goal is speeding up, with 2,000 supportive housing units slated for completion by mid-2021. Fully addressing homelessness is a significant ongoing priority for Los Angeles’ philanthropies, nonprofits, developers, city and county governments, and the voting public. CCF and its initiative partners continue to commit resources to the urgent task of addressing homelessness that faces the region.