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Ordinances aim to speed up homeless housing construction

A new project meant as a model for homeless housing in L.A. broke ground (ceremonially) Thursday.
Rina Palta, KPCC
Officials want to speed up the process for building housing for homeless.

Two ordinances before a city council committee Tuesday aim at making it easier to erect temporary and permanent housing for homeless people in Los Angeles.

While one would ease the process for motels looking to convert into homeless shelters or affordable apartments, the other would eliminate some of the barriers for new construction of multiunit buildings to house L.A.'s poor people and formerly homeless individuals and family. 

The City Council's Planning and Land Use Commission must pass both at their 2:30 meeting before they can proceed to the full council for a final vote.

The proposals come at a time when the city has more resources than usual to devote to constructing housing for homeless. But homeless advocates say L.A.'s construction approval process is onerous and slowing progress. 

Tommy Newman, director of public affairs for the United Way of Greater L.A., said both measures were "long overdue."

"They'll help us build the buildings and convert the rooms that we need," Newman said. 

A main issue, he said, is speed: proposed developments die in L.A.'s cumbersome planning oversight process. Under the proposed ordinance, permanent supportive housing  projects smaller than 120 units would be able to start construction with a building permit from the planning department. At the moment, any building with more than 50 units must go through several committee and commission votes, as well as approval from the full city council. 

"That's one of the reasons we've struggled to build housing in L.A. for so long," Newman said. "Time is money and so you acquire a piece of land and then you have to sit on it for 12, 24 months."

The ordinance would apply only to permanent supportive housing for L.A.'s homeless . The lot would need to be zoned for multiunit buildings and be situated in a major corridor with frequent bus or rail service. 

Those limitations, however, are not a comfort to Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association.

"It cuts residents completely out of the process," he said on KPCC's Airtalk Monday.

The relaxed parking requirements for large supportive housing developments are particularly irksome, he said, as Venice is already short on parking.

"Residents coming home in the evening have to park three and four blocks away," he said.

The ordinance would not require parking spaces for units that go to formerly homeless in permanent supportive housing. Newman said such individuals are usually disabled and do not own cars. Parking spaces would be required for staff and tenants in low-income units that are not considered permanent supportive housing.

Ryavec said the potential for "shoehorning" large apartment buildings into areas that don't have such buildings is still there. 

Any project that receives funds from Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion, ten-year city bond for affordable housing, would still need  funding approval from the city and therefore go before the city council. 

The motel ordinance is less controversial.

It would allow motel owners to contract with the city to house homeless people on a temporary basis without a conditional use permit, which can take a year or more to get. Motel owners would need to add space for services on site and provide kitchens in units. 

That, Newman said, could open up nuisance motels and motels that currently sit half vacant to shelter homeless.

The automatic monthly contract money from the city, he said, would be an incentive for motel owners who currently have little reason to sell their properties to homeless service providers.