Homeless advocates urge L.A. leaders to buy hotel for housing

Homeless advocates on Friday urged city leaders to buy and convert the LA Grand Hotel, which has served as emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, into permanent housing.

Located at Figueroa and 3rd Streets in downtown Los Angeles, the hotel is the city’s largest emergency shelter as part of Project Roomkey, a federally funded program that began in spring 2020. The program enabled cities and counties to provide emergency housing for medically vulnerable people without shelter in the midst of the pandemic. But it eventually became a temporary shelter for a wider spectrum of homeless Angelenos.

With the end of Project Roomkey in LA, only four locations remain. Officials plan to move everyone out of LA Grand, which provided 482 rooms, by Jan. 31, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Standing outside the hotel were current and former Project Roomkey residents along with homeless advocates, urging the city to ensure each person has permanent housing at the hotel.

Tanya Rivera, 53, said she should have moved out of the hotel last week. She said she ended up back on the road before her departure date because she had a medical emergency and was away from the hotel for more than 48 hours – a violation of the rules.

Rivera, who uses a wheelchair and has lupus and spinal spondylosis, said she received a housing voucher but was having trouble navigating the complicated system. The voucher expires at the end of November, she said.

“Nobody helped me to find an apartment,” she says.

Susan Hartnett is standing next to a paper sign that reads "Where do we go?"

Project Roomkey recipient Susan Hartnett, 66, who is scheduled to leave the LA Grand Hotel in downtown Los Angeles in January, says she has yet to find alternative housing.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Ashley Bennett, co-founder of the nonprofit Ground Game LA, said the homeless and homeless coalition sent a letter of demands to council member Kevin de León on Friday, demanding the purchase of the 13-story hotel. The coalition does not yet know how much the hotel would cost, she said.

Getting an assessment “is our number one priority as far as a research project goes,” said Bennett.

De León, who represents downtown, has expressed skepticism about the idea and issued a statement saying he is focused on “realistic solutions” that “get real results that get people off the streets and a roof.” keep it over your head”.

Pete Brown, a spokesman for De León, said the council’s homelessness committee has received weekly reports on efforts to phase out the LA Grand Hotel. As part of that process, everyone at the hotel will be “offered multiple housing options,” Brown said.

“The final Project Roomkey hotels will be shut down through an established and successful process,” said Ahmad Chapman, spokesman for LAHSA. “Working with our partners, we have helped over 4,400 people who participated in Project Roomkey end their homelessness. We will continue to use these successful methods to place as many project room key participants as possible in permanent accommodation and to offer every participant accommodation in temporary accommodation.”

The LA Grand Hotel isn’t the only property targeted by activists.

Four months ago, the city council took a big step toward acquiring Hillside Villa, an apartment complex in Chinatown where dozens of households were facing steep rent increases. Councilor Gil Cedillo, who represents the area, has repeatedly stated that he would be willing to use the power of a significant domain – using government authority to force the owner to sell – to acquire this building.

On Friday, homeless advocates said the city should also consider using a significant domain to acquire the LA Grand Hotel. They argue that the property had a particularly checkered history.

The hotel is at the center of the federal corruption case against former councilor Jose Huizar, who left office in 2020 and faces charges of bribery, racketeering and fraud. Prosecutors said the company that owns the hotel and one of its executives, participated in a program to give financial benefits to Huizar in return for his support of a new 77-story skyscraper planned on the site. The high-rise was not approved.

Huizar and the owner of the building pleaded not guilty. The trial in the case against the developer, real estate company Shenzhen New World, is scheduled for next month.

A company lawyer did not respond to a query from the Times on Friday. Huizar’s trial is scheduled for February.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-24/homeless-advocates-call-on-la-leaders-to-purchase-la-grand-hotel-the-largest-project-roomkey-site Homeless advocates urge L.A. leaders to buy hotel for housing

Alley Einstein

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