Bill Boyarsky
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Homeless, housing and Nimbys

bill-300.jpgA missing ingredient in Wednesday’s Los Angeles County town-hall style meeting on homelessness was a frank discussion of the difficulties in filling the homeless’ great need for affordable housing.

I watched the afternoon-long session online and was impressed with the sincerity of the people in the homeless aid field. They’d come to express their opinions on a draft of a plan that will be presented to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The ideas in the draft are good, but they are the same ideas that have been batted around for years by those providing services to the growing numbers of homeless.

Afterward, I called John Maceri, executive director of OPCC (formerly known as the Ocean Park Community Center) and the Lamp Community. The combined organization assists the homeless in a wide area of Los Angeles, reaching beyond city limits up to Malibu.

“I very much appreciated that the county and the city are working toward a fully integrated strategy,” Maceri said. But he said the ideas offered by the county staff “have been recommended before. That’s not a criticism. It is a recognition that the county and the city are catching up to what the providers have been saying for a long time…now they are working together, or beginning to, in a focused way.”

Finding housing for the homeless—and providing them with care for physical and mental illness and with substance abuse rehabilitation—is a first priority for many advocates for the homeless. They favor a policy known as “housing first”—settling people in apartments and then providing the care and job training they need. The county draft proposals noted that homeless people couldn’t afford rent in high-cost Los Angeles County. And, the Republican Congress has drastically reduced funds to subsidize rents for the poor. The county staff failed to single out the Republicans for the blame they deserve. Nor did they say where the funds should come from.

The county staff also failed to mention another stumbling block. Los Angeles and the other 87 cities in the county control zoning in their areas, and residents have long been opposed to building affordable housing in their neighborhoods or encouraging landlords to open their properties to subsidized housing for the poor.

Los Angeles County runs services for the poor—mental health, drug rehabilitation, county hospitals, foster children programs, general relief aid and, of course, the jail, where too many end up because of punitive city laws. But it has no control over the city zoning laws and regulations that permit or deny construction of low cost housing.

Maceri noted the obstacles, including Nimbyism (not in my backyard) among residents who exert pressure on elected officials. “There will have to be compromise,” he said. “Residents will have to have affordable housing in their neighborhoods.”

There is more, of course, to this complicated issue, and more talks will no doubt be held. Fresh ideas, anyone?

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