In the city of Los Angeles, CA in 2020, almost 250,000 people needed housing services. Today, 117,000 are still on hold to receive it. The city has the 6th largest hotel market in the United States with over 1,000 hotels and more than 98,600 rooms. The Los Angeles City Council voted to position an enactment on the March 5, 2024 ballot that would house those experiencing homelessness in hotels.
Project Roomkey was put into place during the pandemic to house those enduring homelessness, which made hotels into shelters from COVID-19. State officials were worried that the virus would endanger those living in shelters and encampments. Some Project Roomkey sites have already been shut down because they were voluntary for hotel owners and helped them stay open during the peak of the pandemic. It housed 10,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in a 2 year period. However, there was some controversy with 49 deaths in Los Angeles hotels amid the project’s guests; by July 1, 2021, 8 had died in a single hotel. Project Homekey is an extension on Project Roomkey, which provided beds for 42,000 individuals enduring homelessness who were 65 and older or who were susceptible to COVID-19. Homekey used hotels, motels, vacation rentals, college dorms, single family houses, and office buildings. The extended project is a pillar of Gavin Newsom’s $12 billion funding bill to assist those experiencing home instability. Eight hundred million dollars were spent on the Homkey Project in 2020. Now the plan is to spend $5.8 billion in state and federal funding to create around 42,000 housing units. Homekey has become a national model with Washington, Oregon and the city of Baltimore following California’s example.
The Los Angeles Responsible Hotel Ordinance is being sent straight to the ballot after the City Council vote. According to an ABC7 news article, “the ordinance will require a majority vote to pass. If it becomes law, the city’s Housing Department would pay hotels a fair market rate to lodge each person after identifying hotels with vacant rooms.” Under this action, hotels would be required to notify the city of Los Angeles every day at 2 p.m. how many rooms they have open for the night, in order to house those who are suffering from homelessness. Hotels would not be able to discriminate against those experiencing housing instability from staying in their rooms under this proposition. The Los Angeles City Council has also passed an anti-camping measure to remove encampments, which would further push them into staying in hotels. In addition, hotels that have 15 or more rooms that are destroyed or converted into affordable housing have to be replaced by the same amount near the site. The initiative hopes that hotels will not contribute to the city’s lack of affordable housing, affect social services or create transportation and traffic impacts. Los Angeles voters will be able to decide whether or not to enact this plan in 2024 and the funding would need to be obtained by July 1, 2023.
The pandemic was difficult for the hotel industry and it barely managed to evade government aid. Now hotel and tourism heads are worried that this ordinance, if put into effect, could risk the safety of their workers and guests. Many of those who are a part of the hotel business are concerned about the lack of details on how the motion would be achieved. Hotel managers believe that the ordinance will drive away customers and already scarce workers. President Ray Patel, who owns Welcome Inn in Eagle Rock, wants the city to make Project Roomkey voluntary for hotels, rather than a requirement. He stated, “hotels would gladly volunteer their hotels to participate in programs as long as there’s a wraparound service, which includes mental health services, social services, 24-hour security and somebody’s there to hold their hand and help them get into permanent housing.” Councilman Joe Buscaino believes the ordinance will damage the tourism industry and will make hotel workers become social workers. Insurance companies are apprehensive that it will bring unnecessary risks involving guests and business travelers to the hotels. A representative of independent hospitality insurance brokerage Petra Risk Solutions, Richard Earl was concerned that if this proposition went into effect insurance carriers will likely remove coverage. In the Los Angeles Times, Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association asserted, “hotels did not cause the homeless problem. Hotels are not the solution for the homeless problem.” While that may be true, vacant hotel rooms take up space and it would help those suffering from homelessness by receiving immediate affordable housing they desperately need.
The ordinance is endorsed by the hospitality workers union Unite Here Local 11. They were able to collect enough signatures to get it established for voters. Spokesperson Maria Hernandez of Unite Here Local 11 stated, “there are federal, state and local sources of funding for emergency housing, and this initiative creates a new option for using those funds to get people into housing immediately.” An organizer with Unite Here Local 11, Carly Kirchen argued that the hotel operators and associations believed that those experiencing homelessness are dangerous, when in reality many of them are people who were affected by the housing crisis. The union had previously supported hotel owners in efforts to restrict the growth of Airbnb, but they are now concerned with the lack of affordable housing. Most likely because around 32,000 of Unite’s members have experienced homelessness and others were forced out of the city because of increased rent.
California opened nearly 6,000 new housing units for those experiencing homelessness by using hotels. The ordinance plans to keep using the hotel rooms currently inhabited by the unhoused for that purpose. These rooms are lifelines to many enduring homelessness. They give those individuals suffering from homelessness access to food, shelter, showers and bathrooms. Congress has approved $5 billion to turn hotels across the country into permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness. While it is not enough to house every person suffering from homelessness, it is a foot in the right direction.