LA City Council seeks flexible rental subsidies to quickly house homeless

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to seek funding to increase rental subsidies for the homeless in partnership with the county Department of Health Services -- particularly for those with health problems and mental health needs.

"What's really key about this isn't just that it's fast, but that it's cost-effective ... this is actually less expensive than many of the interventions that we rely on. In many cases, this is less expensive than Bridge housing, this is less expensive than tiny homes," Councilman Mike Bonin, who co-introduced the motion with Councilmen Mark Ridley-Thomas and Curren Price, said before the vote.

According to the motion, which was introduced on July 3, more than 60% of the Los Angeles County homeless population is located within the city, and about 28,000 Angelenos are unhoused or unsheltered. The city has about 15,000 shelter beds and 24,600 permanent housing slots.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services' rental subsidy program was launched in 2014 and provides move-in assistance, rental subsidy disbursement and case management to participants. The office of Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis described the program as similar to the federal voucher program, while providing more flexibility to help people who don't qualify for federal vouchers.

The department works with participating landlords to house people in single-family homes, individual apartments, blocks of units and entire buildings. Along with ongoing financial assistance, residents are given housing retention services in an effort to keep them housed.

"Ongoing subsidized rental assistance ... is a necessary and cost- effective strategy to help end not just an episode of homelessness, but chronic homelessness for many living on the streets of Los Angeles," the motion stated.

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The motion notes that the county's program has housed 9,000 Angelenos and provided them with intensive case management services.

Along with instructing the city administrative officer and the chief legislative analyst to identify funding to increase flexible rental subsidies in partnership with the county's Department of Health Services, the motion:

-- directed the CAO, the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Housing Department to report within 30 days to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee on the rental subsidy needs of the current pipeline of interim and permanent supportive housing; and

-- directed the CLA and CAO to report within 30 days to the same committee on recommendations to create the Housing Now Program with the goal of doubling the program by creating a minimum of 10,000 ongoing flexible housing subsidies.

"...The existing flexible housing subsidy program, rental assistance with services, is a program that was started by Dr. Mitchell Katz, the county's former director of health services, who understood that permanent housing -- that is to say a home -- was the best possible prescription he could write for a person experiencing homelessness," said Ridley-Thomas, who chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee. "We know the remedy. So let's get to work and fill this much-needed prescription. It's time. We're overdue. I declare housing now."

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