LOS ANGELES - On Sheffield Avenue in El Sereno, you'll see no trespassing signs, but tons of security.
But it's not residents they're guarding. They're empty homes owned by Caltrans.
FOX 11 has learned it comes at a price tag in the millions. About $13 million for just over six months of security.
Fearing reprisals, Caltrans tenants on the streets did not want to be identified but shared their thoughts to FOX 11.
"I think it's a ridiculous amount of money," said one tenant.
The tenants tell us California Highway Patrol officers started showing up back in November 2020 after squatters protesting high housing costs and homeless rates moved their families into the vacant homes.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: CHP removes squatters from homes owned by Caltrans
After FOX 11 started asking back in December 2020 how much the CHP details were costing. Private guards with Inter-Con took over much of the security.
Month after month, we pushed for the numbers. But despite promise after promise that we'd get it in a week, it happened only when they heard from FOX 11's lawyers did they finally release the data.
Here's what we know:
- More than $4 million: Five months of private security from Inter-Con cost taxpayers
- More than $8 million: Cost of CHP security between November 2020 and April 2021
- More than $13 million total: Guarding 120 vacant homes along the 710 Freeway corridor.
Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León understands the need for security, pointing out many of the homes are uninhabitable and had become beacons for drug addicts and thieves.
Without question, they are quite exorbitant.
But de León believes the money could have been better spent and the homes put to better use. He’d like the city to buy them.
"What we can do is turn those homes for first-time buyers, young couples, homelessness for renters," he said.
Below is a full statement issued by Caltrans:
"Caltrans’ intent for purchasing these homes 60 years ago was to connect the 710 freeway to the 210 freeway in Pasadena. Now that the project is no longer moving forward, our goal is to sell these homes and provide current and former tenants, as well as those who qualify for the Affordable Sales Program, a path to first-time homeownership. Many of the vacant homes along the corridor are not safe for human habitation and have extensive damage, which presents a substantial risk to anyone attempting to occupy these homes. Caltrans began securing the homes by boarding windows and reinforcing locks this past winter while it increased security patrols to deter and prevent entry, paid for from Caltrans’ budget. As we secure the houses, the department is reducing the number of patrols, which is reducing the security costs, by more than $804,000 from its peak in March for private security and $2.7 million from its peak in December for CHP. As of the end of May, we've reduced the number of CHP officers to four and private security guards to 17 - down from 30 guards at the beginning of the year. The monthly break-down of costs is summarized below:
- Jan 2021: 814,782.99
- Feb 2021: 1,123,080.76
- Mar 2021: 1,161,023.84
- April 2021: 657,104.25
- May 2021: 357,107.97
- Total: $4,113,099.81
- Nov 25-30 2020: 814,813.48
- Dec 2020: 3,461,196.05
- Jan 2021: 3,338,291.02
- Feb 2021: 625,192.51
- Mar 2021: 689,424.97
- Total: $8,928,918.03
While Caltrans pursues regulatory changes needed to expedite the sale of these vacant homes, we have leased 26 vacant properties to the City of Los Angeles for its transitional housing program. The department continues to work with cities and housing agencies to lease other available properties for affordable housing.
Please let me know if you have any questions. We apologize for the delay in getting this information to you."
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