Mike Bonin and Ron Galperin discuss creation of supportive housing for the homeless

By Katie Lulla

The Westchester-Playa Democratic Club recently held a virtual panel via Zoom to discuss the causes of homelessness in Los Angeles and 11th District Councilman Mike Bonin’s plans for supportive housing.

“I think we got here by a combination of neglect, a lack of leadership and a lack of accountability,” said Ron Galperin, LA City Controller. “Deficient and sometimes confused priorities. I think it’s a byproduct of a siloed and sometimes fractured government, and also good intentions gone bad.”

Galperin outlined the complications behind the homeless crisis and the limiting of supportive housing: California building regulations, LA housing policies such as rent control, laws surrounding individual liberties, and lack of mental health experts. He stated that he favored the intentions behind the complications, but it is undeniable that they, as a whole, limit supportive housing.

In the latter part of his report, he discussed the effectiveness of LA’s solutions to the crisis. Galperin said that while some solutions are flawed, it is better to start somewhere when helping alleviate homelessness.

“We have to utilize data and utilize innovative solutions,” Galperin said. “Shared housing, modular housing, microunits, [are] temporary yet imperfect solutions.”

Galperin focused on the statistics and efficiency of Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond for 10,000 permanent supportive housing units. Only $362 million has been issued and only about half of that has been spent. The costs for each unit have been far higher than expected. He estimated that over 30% of the costs were from “soft costs” such as lobbyists and consultants.

“We have to be willing to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves about what progress we have or have not made,” Galperin said. “Now, nobody expected those units to be built overnight, but it has now been four-and-a-half years.”

Galperin added that providing permanent housing is the only way to keep people off the streets, but not every person needs that. There are several levels of need alongside the demand for mental health services. He supported impermanent housing as an alternative.

“It’s not an either or proposition, but I do believe that the interest of saving lives right now is one that requires us to look at [interim housing] so we can help move people along a continuum of assistance that they need,” Galperin said.

He later elaborated on the section of Prop HHH that allows adapted reuse, which lets the city use buildings that have outlived their former uses. Galperin listed motels, old retail buildings and unused office space as possible building sources. He added that addiction and mental health help should not be overlooked as they facilitate people’s paths to permanent housing.

“Different properties are going to be appropriate for different purposes, some of them can be used for putting micro homes or [prefabricated buildings],” Galperin said. “Giving people an opportunity to feel like human beings again will be an investment.”

Bonin continued the discussion with the new framework requiring council members to provide beds for 60% of their district’s homeless population. Once that number is reached, council members can push out the remaining 40% to other districts. This concerns Bonin since the 11th District has far more homeless than others, which slows down his ability to house the 60%.

In order to create more housing he previously announced a list of locations and neighborhoods that he would like to enter negotiations with. Bonin refuted the accusations that he is acting without approval from the neighborhoods and locations.

“We have not formally said that we are doing something at any of these locations, what we have asked for is an evaluation of each of these sites,” Bonin said. “[We’ll be] looking at the layout, looking at the capacity, looking at what the infrastructure cost would be.”

After evaluations, the locations and local services will still have to approve the type of housing and homeless services. Permanent housing includes government land, interim housing and host/group homes. Immediate solutions will be cabin communities, safe parking and camping.

“[Safe camping and the other solutions are] not what you see on our sidewalks. It is not what you currently see in our camps,” Bonin said. “It is an alternative […] that is immediate and is healthy.”

Bonin said that the courts have repeatedly stated that LA must get people off the streets before any other actions can be taken. He explained that people suing the city to stop housing and blocking safe camping are limiting his ability to remove people from the streets and areas such as the Ballona Wetlands.

Bonin said the public agrees that people cannot continue to be unregulated on the streets, but must also come to terms with permanent and impermanent housing in all of the 11th District. He urged people to bring alternative buildings and locations with their criticism.

“Better locations? We are listening,” said Bonin. “ We need to find them […] because we cannot keep choosing this.”