LA City, County have returned nearly $150M in homeless grants, citing housing market

The three main housing agencies tasked with reducing homelessness in the Los Angeles area failed to spend nearly $150 million in federal grants between 2015 and 2020 and the money was returned to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a newspaper report Saturday.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority returned more than $29 million to HUD during the six-year period, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles returned more than $82 million, and the Los Angeles County Development Authority returned nearly $38 million.

LAHSA spokesman Ahmad Chapman told The Times that the agency operates "in a climate where the rental market is so hard to access, it makes it very challenging to use all these resources."

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LAHSA's chief programs officer, Molly Rysman, blamed the problem on what she called HUD's "rigid" and "complex" funding system, which makes it challenging to spend funds quickly or reallocate money that can't be used for its original purpose.

"We've said this to HUD over and over again," she told the newspaper. "We need a lot more flexibility."

The county housing authority cited insufficient workable housing units and client referrals, poor credit and rental histories among the homeless population, and program attrition.

The city housing authority told The Times that many landlords are unwilling to rent to homeless people, and also cited the city's tight rental market and high turnover rates.

LAHSA has come under scrutiny for how it conducts the city's annual count of its unhoused population. Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez and three other council members called for a review of LAHSA's role in addressing the city's homelessness crisis last week.

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Martinez introduced two motions — one calling for options to have a third party conduct the city's annual homeless count, and one calling for a multi-year audit of LAHSA's previous counts.

The Times reported Saturday that LAHSA's spreadsheet breaking down this year's homeless count by each census tract in Los Angeles County showed that there were no homeless people in the northwest quarter of Venice, an area traditionally home to unusually large numbers of homeless.

LAHSA did not specifically address that discrepancy, but Chapman did acknowledge human and technological errors in this year's count.

"During the Count, we received several reports of user and technological errors resulting from a lack of training and poor internet connectivity," he told The Times. "Despite these errors, we are confident in the accuracy of this year's homeless Count because LAHSA and its partners took several steps to account for what was happening in the field."