By Sheila Kuehl
This year’s Homeless Count, conducted by the LA Homeless Services Authority, revealed a 23 percent increase in County homelessness that can only be attributable to the deepening housing crisis in LA County. We just can’t keep up!
Last year the County found permanent housing for 14,000 people, a huge increase over prior years. Even as we ended homelessness for those thousands of people on our streets, greater numbers of Angelenos were falling into homelessness because they simply could not keep up with the soaring cost of renting.
Rents in LA County have increased 32 percent since 2000 while renters’ incomes have remained flat. Eighty percent of extremely low-income households now pay more than 50 percent of their income to rent. Economists suggest that in a stable housing market that cost should not be more than 33 percent. This means that many residents of this County are living on the edge, one small stroke of bad luck away from losing their homes, and more are falling into homelessness than we can house each month.
Increasing rents have led to a significant shift in who experiences homelessness. We can agree that there are men and women on the streets who suffer from mental illness, but those numbers have been declining such that the root of our homeless crisis now lies in an economic imbalance linked to our housing market.
In 2016 the County and City of LA increased investment in resources to address homelessness, and we significantly increased the number of people we were able to help secure housing. Last year, more than 14,200 people were re-housed. That is close to twice the number of people who were re-housed in 2014. Our efforts are paying off: In 2014, 8,800 people were re-housed. In 2015, nearly 11,000 were re-housed. I know that our increased investment in 2017 will help significantly more people.
But I am deeply concerned that over the next few years we will continue to be overwhelmed by people for whom rents are simply unsustainable. These men, women, and families will continue to fall into homelessness.
I want to challenge my colleagues at all levels of government to squarely face the realities of our housing market. For far too long policymakers nationally, in the state, and locally have prioritized real estate profit over a healthy housing market. Weak housing and rent control regulation combined with short-sighted land use planning has turned LA County into the most unaffordable place to live in the entire country.
I am firmly committed to exploring all the tools available to increase the production of affordable housing and to regulate the rental market. This year’s Homeless Count numbers demand that we bring an unwavering resolve not only to invest in housing those who are currently homeless, but to invest in affordable housing and work to change land use and rent control regulation to create and preserve affordable homes for our residents.
I need my constituents to join with the County’s efforts by supporting the citing of affordable housing in their communities, telling their state lawmakers that “Costa-Hawkins” anti-rent stabilization measures must be eliminated, and opposing the federal government’s draconian cuts to housing and anti-poverty programs. The news today is deeply disturbing and it will take all of us to reverse this trend. LA County voters have stepped up by supporting Measure H. Now let’s make sure that Measure H is successful by getting all levels of government to focus on the true sources of this crisis.
Sheila Kuehl is the Los Angeles County Supervisor for the Third District, which includes the San Fernando Valley.