Measure requiring hotel rooms for the homeless in Los Angeles for the March ballot

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A measure that would force Los Angeles hotels to place homeless people in vacant rooms will be on the March 2024 ballot.

The initiative garnered more than 126,000 signatures and was submitted to city council, which voted unanimously Friday to put it on the ballot rather than pass it immediately. The proposal comes as Project Roomkey, a program created in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has provided shelter for more than 10,000 homeless people over the past two years, is being phased out.

If the measure is approved by voters, the city’s housing department would pay hotels a fair rate to house each person after identifying hotels with vacant rooms. It would require hotels to report the number of vacant rooms to the city and prohibit them from denying accommodations to homeless people seeking accommodation under the program.

Maria Hernandez, communications director for UNITE HERE Local 11, said union members representing more than 32,000 workers at Southern California hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers marched to help collect signatures.

“We believe this is a matter of common sense, and housing is an issue that affects so many of our members every day,” Hernandez told the City News Service. “Unfortunately, it’s not talked about enough, especially people who are on the verge of homelessness or who have to live in homes with multiple people at once.”

Hotel owners opposed to the measure filled council chambers on Friday, arguing the proposal would decimate the local hospitality industry by driving away staff and visitors.

Heather Rozman, executive director of the Los Angeles Hotel Association, told the board that hotel staff are not public safety providers and “shouldn’t be required to clean up behind the humanitarian crisis of the town”.

“The hospitality industry is here today because their livelihoods, their family businesses and in some cases their homes are at stake,” Rozman said. “Families and business travelers coming to Los Angeles want to know they will have affordable and safe accommodations when they arrive.”

FRONT COVER: Los Angeles City Council to vote on initiative that would force hotels to give away empty rooms to homeless people

Rozman added that she fears insurance companies will raise premiums if the measure is passed. She said some major conference organizers are already considering pulling events out of Los Angeles.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, told the council, “Hotels did not cause the homelessness problem. Hotels are not the solution to the homelessness problem.”

Councilman Joe Buscaino called the initiative “a poorly conceived idea that doesn’t solve homelessness” and instead hurts tourism. He urged voters to reject the measure.

“Placing paying hotel guests next to a homeless person shows a complete misunderstanding of the causes of homelessness, which often stem from mental illness and addiction,” Buscaino said in a statement.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, without taking a position on the measure, said special interest groups backing “any ridiculous policy proposal that can get enough Trader Joe buyers to sign a petition shouldn’t be the law of the city of Los Angeles, just because a petition qualifies.”

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“I am grateful that on this point we voted to bring this issue to the voters where it belongs,” Krekorian said. “If voters want to pass it, great. If they don’t, great.”

For hotel development projects with 100 rooms or more to receive permit, the city’s planning commission – or board on appeal – would have to consider “the project’s impact on affordable housing, public transit , social services, employees and local businesses,” according to the draft order. This would include whether the proposed hotel would “unduly burden the demand for affordable housing and social services” in Los Angeles.

Hotel developments with 15 or more rooms that demolish or convert housing for the project should replace them with the same number of affordable housing units near the site.

“I think it’s a holistic approach,” Hernandez said. “If you have less luxury hotel development, you have more housing. That means people don’t have to live super, far away or be on the edge of homelessness.”

In addition to passing the ordinance as written, the council could also have called a special election later this year that would have cost about $12 million. There should be a minimal cost to put it on the ballot in 2024.

Bambian Taft, who works as a minibar attendant at a hotel and helped secure signatures for the petition, said the order would mean a lot to her and her daughter.

“I wouldn’t have to pay $145 for a hotel room every night and try to figure out how my daughter and I are going to eat, shower and sleep,” Taft told the City News Service. “Right now the struggle is real. You don’t have to be (mentally ill) or someone on the street to get through the struggle with homelessness. I just need a little nudge. thumb to help me and my daughter.”

Taft was disheartened to hear so many hotel owners speak out against the proposal at the meeting. She thought they were portraying homeless people in a bad light.

“I was very disappointed with what they were saying and how they made people feel,” Taft said. “Especially being homeless, it’s like they don’t want you. They don’t want you in the hotels. It was just very disappointing.”

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