Motels could shelter thousands of LA's homeless

The City of LA saw a 20 percent rise in homelessness in 2017.
The City of LA saw a 20 percent rise in homelessness in 2017.
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Los Angeles may make it easier for motels to convert into housing for homeless under an ordinance debated by the City Council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee Wednesday.

As city and county officials look to get L.A. County's 58,000 homeless people off the streets and into housing, finding space is an ongoing issue. In the past, homeless service providers looking to expand temporary housing and shelters have turned to nuisance motels as prime, structurally appropriate properties for conversion.

But the process can be lengthy.

"In some cases, due to their age, hotels and motels may not be in conformance with current zoning regulations, so this change of use (including adding new kitchens) could trigger additional complications, such as inadequate parking provided on-site or an increase beyond the allowable density," Cheryl Getuiza, a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in an email. 

That, she said, could slow down a conversion by six months to a year while additional review takes place. 

Under the proposed ordinance, those extra requirements, like parking spots, would be waived during the length of the motel's contract as a homeless housing provider. One requirement that would remain: developers would not be allowed to make the hotel bigger or taller. 

The motel would also bypass public hearings that typically take place during zoning changes and motel conversions. And it would be required to host county-funded social services, like mental health care, on site. 

Neighborhood opposition has doomed some proposed conversions in the past, like a plan to convert the Golden Motel in Temple City into apartments for formerly homeless. That case fell under the jurisdiction of the county.

L.A. City Council Member Marqueece Harris-Dawson said members of the public would still be able to offer input on a conversion, but the process would be faster. And speed right now is key, he said, with the general public looking to make progress on solving homelessness. 

Voters in the city of L.A. approved Proposition HHH, a homeless housing construction bond, in 2016. And county voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax for homeless services in 2017. Now, voters are looking for progress, he said.

"There's less patience for people being on the streets than there might have been in the past," Harris-Dawson said.

Capri Maddox of the L.A. City Attorney's Office said there are a couple hundred units in motels that are currently interested in the program, but there's potential for thousands more. Motel owners appreciate the chance to maintain ownership of the property and revert back to being a motel after the contract expires.

"They're eager to participate in the program and we all need a solution," she said.

The committee is expected to vote on the ordinance within the next month, after incorporating requirements for management plans and geographic distribution of motels into the proposal. It would then need to be approved by the full council and the mayor.