In a bold step to confront one of the root causes of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles, City Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Paul Koretz and David Ryu today called for the city to begin penalizing landlords who keep habitable housing units empty while tens of thousands of Angelenos are forced to live on the streets because of the high cost of housing.

Legislation proposed at today’s council meeting instructs the Housing and Community Investment Department to work with the City Attorney to report to the council with options for creating a charge for landlords who keep housing units empty. In other jurisdictions where similar efforts have been implemented, not only have vacancy rates declined, but millions of dollars have been generated by the charges to help create new affordable housing.

“No bed in this city should be empty when people are being forced to sleep on pavement,” Bonin said. “Empty home penalties encourage landlords to keep people housed, and they help raise needed funds to create more affordable housing. This is an important tool for addressing one of the root causes of homelessness in LA, and it is a step we desperately need to take.”

“Working class Angelenos are struggling to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads.” said Councilmember Marqueece Harris Dawson “With the latest homeless count numbers, we have to work harder to find as many solutions as possible to open up more housing units as well as funding for them.”

An estimated 111,810 housing units in the City of Los Angeles are vacant, according to Census data, and with the 2019 LAHSA Homeless Count showing an increase in homelessness despite housing more people than ever before, it is clear that the housing crisis and homelessness crisis are inexorably linked. Vacancy penalties already exist in cities like Oakland, Washington DC, and Vancouver, B.C., and voters San Francisco are likely to soon consider a similar measure.

The legislation won widespread support from both housing and affordability advocates, including some organizations that typically find themselves on opposing sides of local debates about development.

“We believe everybody deserves a safe, decent affordable home,” said Bill Przylucki of People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER) – a tenant’s rights and anti-eviction community organizing group. “Considering a vacant homes penalty demonstrates the City’s commitment to put the right to housing above the right to profit, and is an important piece of a strategy to ensure the human right to housing in Los Angeles. We hope the City Council will pass this motion, consider the results of the study carefully, and take the strongest actions possible based on the results.”

“Abundant Housing LA applauds the efforts to use every weapon in our arsenal to fight for LA’s homeless residents and relieve our housing shortage,” said Nick Burns, Westside Advocacy Coordinator for Abundant Housing Los Angeles. “We hope this is just the first step of many going forward that our leaders will take to finally put an end to LA’s housing crisis.”

“The recent soaring homeless numbers requires new, creative and immediate actions to address this growing travesty,” said Larry Gross, Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. “Clearly more, much more is needed, but, this City can’t stand by while speculators and others hold needed housing units off the market as masses huddle on our sidewalks. Hopefully, this effort can provide the incentive for them to open their doors to renters who need a roof over their heads. If not, then they have a responsibility to help pay for efforts to address our crisis.”

Vacancy has become especially problematic in Los Angeles as luxury apartments are built and sold to investors – usually who live far from LA – and then kept off the market for investment purposes. Bonin’s legislation asks the Housing Department to focus part of the requested report on properties that are intentionally left vacant by absentee owners solely for investment purposes.

“Investors who keep housing units vacant are letting their greed contribute to a humanitarian crisis on our streets,” added Bonin. “Housing is a human right and we have a responsibility to make sure landlords are filling every available housing unit and getting people off the streets for good. There is no way to end our homelessness crisis without measures like this to expand opportunities for people to live in affordable housing, and I am enormously grateful for the work of dedicated community activists who have helped bring this idea forward.”

The legislation was referred to the city council’s Housing Committee will be heard at the discretion of the committee’s chair.

Submitted by David Graham-Caso, Deputy Chief of Staff Councilmember Mike Bonin

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.