Tackle L.A.’s homelessness catastrophe with publicly-owned social housing

On February 19, the End Homelessness Now-LA campaign and 39 endorsing organizations sent a letter to city officials calling for immediate implementation of the kind of government-owned social housing that will bring unhoused people indoors and keep low income folks from losing their homes.  (See letter below.)

It has been over three months since the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion on November 4, 2020, asking city administrators to study types of government-owned social housing used in other countries and make recommendations on their applicability in L.A.  Four or more unhoused L.A. residents have died each day since that motion passed. The time to act is now!

Neighborhood Councils are also issuing Community Impact Statements in support of this social housing motion. See their statements, the motion, and other public comments here: 20-0197 (CFMS) (lacity.org)

For more information on social housing in Europe and the history of public housing in the United States, see: “Why America Needs Social Housing”
By Peter Dreier, April 16, 2018, The American Prospect, https://prospect.org/infrastructure/america-needs-social-housing/


End Homelessness Now-LA  

2122 W. Jefferson Blvd., L.A., CA 90018

February 19, 2021

Mayor Eric Garcetti
200 N. Spring Street Room 303
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso
200 North Spring Street Room 255
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Chief Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn
200 N. Main St. Suite 1500
Los Angeles, CA 90012-4137

Director Ann Sewill
Housing + Community Investment Department
1200 West 7th Street, 9th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Los Angeles City Council
Council File: 20-0197

Subject:  Social Housing


Dear Mr. Garcetti, Ms. Tso, Mr.  Llewellyn, Ms. Sewill, and City Council Members:

The End Homelessness Now-LA Campaign and the endorsers listed below are deeply concerned about the plight of the unhoused and low-income residents in our community.

Today, L.A.’s homelessness catastrophe is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to be plagued by systemic racism, and will greatly worsen when hit with a tsunami of evictions in 2021.  We cannot wait any longer for a comprehensive solution.

The City Council’s November 4, 2020, request for a report on types of government-owned social housing used in other countries and for recommendations on their  implementation in Los Angeles gives our city a valuable opportunity to bring our unhoused neighbors indoors and keep others from losing their homes.  We urge you to act courageously and with the utmost urgency.  It is time to step away from the costly and wasteful private-ownership, for-profit approach to housing.  Instead, we must recognize housing as a human right and a matter of public good, like mass transit, libraries, or schools.

Social housing is the share of housing that is treated as a social resource for the community, rather than as a for-profit commodity.  Rents are calculated through cost-based or income-based formulas.  It is a state-supported approach to providing housing outside of the market, free from the ravages of inflation and speculation.  As you will see in studying what other countries and cities have done, homelessness is largely prevented, and millions of very-low to moderate-income people have long term access to high quality housing.

When public housing is available to a range of income levels, two things happen:  (1) higher rents can be charged to higher-income residents, offsetting much of the capital cost; and (2) poor people have better access to amenities like parks, services, and transportation that come with a mixed income community.  This model encourages real social integration and discourages culturally and economically segregated enclaves.

As you design social housing for Los Angeles, we urge you to:

Treat this situation as the dire emergency that it is.  Every day that we fail to resolve this calamity, four unhoused people die in our streets.

  • In developing this social housing proposal, involve people with lived experience in being unhoused and members of grass roots organizations and advocacy groups.  They know what it takes to become successfully rehoused.
  • Start with empty or underused buildings or lots that are already publicly owned.  This would eliminate property acquisition costs.
  • Consider purchasing more hotels, motels, and other properties that can be quickly and economically transformed into permanent housing.  This would invest the large amounts of money now being spent on short-term rent of these facilities in permanent housing instead.
  • Maintain public ownership of this social housing.  This would prevent the displacement of long term and low-income tenants when contracts with private owners expire.  We’ve seen too much of that already as the original 30-year public/private contracts are not renewed.  The HHH housing now being built will face the same fate in 55 years.
  • Maintain public operation of this housing so that the sliding scale rent from all the tenants would go back into the public coffers to pay for operation, maintenance, and loan repayment.
  • Once in operation, provide for meaningful participation in building governance by the residents.

As you study social housing elsewhere in the world, you will see that principles such as these have made it successful.

COVID-19 and the economic crisis we are facing make the pursuit of aggressive social housing policy difficult.  However, they also make it absolutely crucial if we are to find permanent solutions to both the homelessness disaster and the chronic shortage of affordable housing.

Please take the same kind of bold and immediate measures to address this tragedy that you are taking to the pandemic.  Business as usual is too deadly to continue.


Zerita Jones, Jeff Lassanske, Jess Steever, Val Carlson
End Homelessness Now-LA Steering Committee


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