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Initiative to decide whether LA hotels should house the homeless

(Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty Images)

The Los Angeles City Council has voted to place a controversial measure on the March 2024 ballot that would require hotels to rent vacant rooms to the homeless, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The initiative is backed by the hospitality workers union Unite Here Local 11, which gathered enough signatures to place it before voters.

“The hotel operators would have you believe that every person experiencing homelessness is so sick that they are a danger to the people around them,” said Carly Kirchen, an organizer with Unite Here Local 11. “But this myth argument misrepresents who is actually experiencing homelessness.”

The council decision sets the stage for a protracted battle between the hotel industry and the labor union backed by housing and politically progressive groups.
“Hotels did not cause the homeless problem,” Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, said. “Hotels are not the solution for the homeless problem.”

The proposal comes as city officials shut down Project Roomkey, a voluntary state program to turn hotels into homeless shelters during the coronavirus pandemic. Many Project Roomkey sites have since closed.

By July of last year, the Project Roomkey program had led to 49 deaths in Los Angeles County. The tally includes eight people who died while staying at Airtel Plaza Hotel at Van Nuys Airport.

Hotel owners and operators packed the City Council chamber, arguing that the proposal would unfairly burden hotels and hurt their business, according to the Times. Some hotel workers supported the measure, while others opposed it.

Under the proposal, hotels would be required to report vacant rooms to the city’s housing department daily. The department would then make referrals and pay a “fair market rate” for the rooms, using prepaid vouchers. The proposed voucher program has no source of funding.

The proposal would also link the development of some new hotels to affordable housing construction, while requiring new projects with more than 100 rooms to obtain a conditional use permit.
Hotels would be barred from discriminating against homeless Angelenos for participating in the program.
Richard Earle, a representative of independent hospitality insurance brokerage Petra Risk Solutions, said the program would reduce hotels’ ability to procure and maintain insurance.
“Insurance carriers will legitimately pull coverage,” Earle said. “The business is underwritten with risks that involve guests and business travelers, not residents who bring a whole set of separate implications.”

– Dana Bartholomew

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