LA Homeless Services promotes 2 officers to run agency until interim director named

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority will temporarily be co-led by chief officers Molly Rysman and Kristina Dixon, now that Executive Director Heidi Marston, who announced her resignation earlier this week, has stepped back from her leadership role.

Marston, who had led LAHSA since December 2019, had previously said her resignation would be effective May 27, but LAHSA announced Friday that Marston would step down as executive director Friday but remain with the agency until May 27.

Rysman previously served as chief programs officer and Kristina Dixon served as chief financial officer. The commission that oversees LAHSA elevated their positions Friday, but the commission will name an interim executive director in the next few weeks and conduct a nationwide search for a permanent executive director.

"The Commission and I would like to thank Kristina and Molly for stepping up to co-lead LAHSA during this transition period," said LAHSA Commission Chair Jacqueline Waggoner. "Both Molly and Kristina combine decades of public service and homeless services experience with a passion for centering equity and inclusion into LAHSA's work."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: LA Homeless Services Executive Director announces resignation over staff pay

In her resignation letter to the commission, Marston cited disagreements over compensation for staff. Marston said she raised the salary for the 196 lowest-paid employees to $50,000 a year in March 2021. Employees were previously earning as little as $33,119.

"The employees of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority should not make so little that they qualify for homeless services themselves," she wrote in a letter to the commission.

Rysman told the Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday that before the agency increased its base pay to $50,000, some of its staff were experiencing homelessness themselves.

"What we learned was that we had some staff who were homeless themselves, and the last thing we want as an employer is to be contributing to our crisis that's out there on the sidewalk," Rysman told the committee as part of the 2022-23 budgeting process.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Some LA Homeless Services employees were homeless before minimum pay increased

Along with increasing the compensation floor for LAHSA's employees, Marston also stopped increasing the pay of the 10 highest-paid employees, according to the letter.

Following her decision, Marston said she was accused of "undermining management's position" in labor negotiations. She added that service providers believed she was trying to "poach" LAHSA's staff.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the commission raised concerns about the decision in January after issues arose in negotiations with the employees' union, SEIU, which led to employees getting a pay raise on top of the $50,000 base salary.

SUGGESTED: LA spending up to $837,000 to house a single homeless person

Attorneys with the City Attorney's Office found the raises constituted a union contract revision that should have been approved by the commission first, according to The Times.

Sources told The Times the commission didn't have issues with employees receiving more pay, but had issues with how it was implemented.

"Throughout Heidi's tenure at LAHSA, she has shown passionate leadership and dedication to ending homelessness in Los Angeles County. Heidi has successfully steered LAHSA through unprecedented growth and a global pandemic," Wendy Greuel, vice chair of the LAHSA Commission, said in a statement Friday.