This FlywayHomes development on 82nd Street in South L.A. utilized shipping containers to construct
32 units of housing for $4.75 million — less than $150,000 per personBy Sarah Degenhardt Jessup
The writer serves as board chair for nonprofit homeless services agency The People Concern and is a cofounder of FlyawayHomes.
There are too many homeless people in _________. Fill in the blank — it’s what residents in every neighborhood across Greater Los Angeles are saying. But there is little argument among those of us who live in Venice that homelessness feels particularly unsolvable here, and the problem is only getting bigger as gentrification continues.
As a community, however, we are very much at odds about solutions. We don’t want permanent shelters in our neighborhoods, and we distrust politicians who tell us they are temporary. We are sick and tired of feeling hopeless while we face chronic homelessness every time we leave the house.
But the problem of chronic homelessness is not a hopeless one. And the solution is not complicated. Regardless of where you stand on the problem, the solution is the same: permanent supportive housing.
If you believe that we have a moral imperative not to let human beings languish on our streets, the solution is permanent supportive housing. If you’re motivated by other reasons, the solution is still permanent supportive housing. The truth remains that once people are housed, they are no longer homeless.
I understand there’s a lot of resistance to permanent supportive housing in close proximity to our homes and workplaces, driven by fears that it will ruin the fabric of our neighborhoods, put our families at risk, and decrease property values. But there is no evidence these things have happened in neighborhoods where such housing has been developed.
The key to success is the word “supportive.” Tenants must have access to services that will keep them housed and thriving, whatever that means to them. Often they can be the best of neighbors — I’ve seen it happen.
I am the board chair for the brilliant social services agency The People Concern, which provides an array of services to help our most vulnerable neighbors find permanent supportive housing. We’ve placed and currently care for more than 1,700 formerly homeless people throughout Los Angeles County, and could do more if not for one massive roadblock: lack of affordable housing.
The current model for creating the housing L.A. so desperately needs takes far too long and is too expensive. At more than $500,000 to house one person and developments taking three to five years to complete, it’s clear the system is not designed to solve the problem we face.
A couple of years ago I partnered with a fellow board member of The People Concern and two others to create FlyawayHomes, which is working to create a replicable production model. The key is to reduce the cost and time involved in construction. We do this by building smaller, quality supportive housing without special zoning exemptions, using manufactured housing and a streamlined financing structure.
Flyaway projects are designed as shared-living units. The People Concern places and cares for the residents — experts at bringing people inside and keeping there, they’ve been doing such work for 55 years — and we maintain a property manager to ensure our developments stay beautiful.
Our model is small enough to integrate into any neighborhood, and soon we’ll scale up to building several projects at once. With the right components in place, we think we can house 20,000 homeless people by the time the Olympics come to Los Angeles in 2028. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Our first development, made from recycled shipping containers, has been operational in South Los Angeles since November and is proof positive that our business model works. The real estate investment firm CBRE and the architecture/design firm Gensler heard about what we are doing, and they’ve joined with us to create a task force that the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has recommended for $19.5 million in funding through the city’s Proposition HHH-funded Housing Innovation Challenge.
We plan to leverage these HHH funds with $45 million of private capital in order to produce developments that will house 400 people in 24 months. These 200 two-bedroom units in five separate developments across the city will also help us perfect a scalable, rapid and cost-effective model for addressing chronic homelessness in Los Angeles — producing housing at one-third of the usual cost-per-person in just one-third of the time.
We imagine a future when you can drive down a street almost anywhere in Los Angeles and not see evidence of street homelessness. We imagine a future when your neighborhoods are revitalized, your families feel safe, and your property values are secure. We imagine a future when no person is forced to live in squalor on our streets, for years, without reasonable access to housing or services.
Maybe we could build one of our Flyaway developments in Venice. We’ll see how it goes, having solid proof that formerly homeless people living in our neighborhoods is not a catastrophe — and is actually much nicer than having them living literally in our back yards.
Again, I understand the resistance to building permanent supportive housing communities in Venice, and that many of us think we’ve already done our share. But to solve homelessness, we need to allow construction of more of these developments than we think is our fair share. Because __________ has the biggest homeless problems in Los Angeles.
Just ask anyone.