L.A. County aims to convert large blocks of rooms into clusters of interim housing

By Gary Walker

In response to a 12% year-over-year increase in homelessness countywide, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn hopes to expedite getting more of the county’s 58,936 homeless residents off the streets by expanding the use of motel rooms as interim housing.

On Tuesday, Hahn proposed purchasing large blocks of motel rooms for extended periods of time, and possibly even converting hotel parking areas into “safe parking” spaces where people who live in their vehicles can sleep overnight.

Using motels as interim housing isn’t a new idea, but the county’s current piecemeal implementation strategy has not been very cost effective, with different county departments often having separate contracts with the same motels, according to Louisa Ollague, Hahn’s assistant chief of staff.

Hahn’s proposal is for the county to purchase many or even all of a motel’s available rooms for an extended period of time — reducing costs, increasing capacity and facilitating more efficient delivery of mental health and other social services.

“In the wake of the current homeless crisis, it is imperative that Los Angeles County harness its immense purchasing power to drive down the cost of motel vouchers by aggressively pursuing master lease agreements with hotels to house chronically homeless individuals,” reads the text of Hahn’s proposal, supported by a unanimous vote of the board on Tuesday.

The plan calls for at least one motel master lease in each of the county’s eight designated service planning areas, and it also directs county agencies to explore the feasibility of using motel parking lots for “safe parking” programs. County officials are expected to report back to the board in a month about details of implementation and at least one motel master lease possibility for each area.

Hahn’s office had been considering
the strategy for months, but proof of concept came after office staff began outreach efforts to a motel owner in Whittier and residents of a nearby homeless encampment.

“It took around three months of engagement, and we did extensive outreach to the encampment before people agreed to go to the motel. There’s a lot of hesitancy, and sometimes we get a lot of no’s,” Ollague explained.

But the good news is that out of 42 formerly homeless people who received temporary housing, 18 have successfully moved on to permanent supportive housing, she said.

“It is hard to find affordable long-term housing for chronically homeless individuals, but we cannot let that stand in the way of helping the people who need us,” Hahn said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Using motel rooms as interim housing allows us to help people off of the streets quickly and buys us time while we work to find them a long-term home.”