LA’s purchase of hotel for homeless shows a strategy shift


LA is planning to buy the Mayfair Hotel for $60 million and spend another $23 million to renovate it into housing for people experiencing homelessness. Photo by Anna Scott.

On Friday, LA’s City Council voted 12-2 to buy the 294-room Mayfair Hotel in Westlake and convert it to transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness. The controversial plan, which has drawn criticism from neighbors and council members (even as they voted for it), is a big win for LA Mayor Karen Bass and reflects a significant policy shift in LA City and County. 

Why is this controversial?

Some nearby residents and business owners say that during the pandemic, when the property was used as temporary shelter under Project Roomkey, clients in the program openly used drugs or displayed behavioral issues on the streets around the hotel.

“This project will cause a dangerous situation,” said Janet Morris, an opponent who spoke at Friday’s City Council meeting. “This neighborhood deserves stable housing for seniors, unhoused college students and others, and not a Skid Row-type vertical apartment building.”

Supporters of the project, including representatives from social service organizations in Skid Row and around the city, argued that it will save lives by providing badly needed interim housing.

In an interview with KCRW, Mayor Bass said that under her Inside Safe Initiative, the building will have 24-hour services on-site for residents, as well as security. 

“When Project Roomkey happened,” she said, “we were responding to a public health crisis. People were dying and every effort was made to just pull people off the streets, put them in a hotel, and hope for the best. This is a situation that is completely different.”

Some opponents also raised questions about the project’s high cost: $83 million.

Why is the price tag so high?

The $83 million total cost includes $60 million for the purchase and $23 million to renovate it — a windfall for Mayfair Lofts, the building’s owner (which is associated with the real estate management and development organization ICO Group of Companies). The owner paid $17.4 million to buy the property in 2012, according to property records.

Before voting to move ahead with the purchase, westside council member Traci Park also expressed concern about the ongoing cost of operating the building. Initially, on-site services like addiction counseling, housing navigation and social services will be funded through a two-year $60 million state grant.

“I am not actually convinced that any of us have a real grasp on what the actual maintenance service and programming costs are going to be going forward,” said Park.

Bass, backed by a report from the city’s General Services Department, says that owning the hotel will be cheaper in the long run than the city’s current practice of renting hotel or motel rooms by the night to use as shelter.

“One also has to consider how much it costs to leave people on the streets in conditions of squalor,” said Bass. “The cost to the individuals, the cost to society, emergency rooms, police costs and just a general reduction in the quality of life for everyone.” 

What’s next?

According to the mayor’s office, escrow on the Mayfair must close by the end of this month, and move-ins are anticipated to start in early 2024. Renovations and services planning will be coordinated with the City Council member whose district includes the Mayfair, Eunisses Hernandez, and a community advisory board will be established as per an amendment Hernandez made to Friday’s vote.

“I have to be very clear, I'm not going to let my community down,” said Hernandez. “I still have a lot of concerns, but I'm not going to take the gas off of it.”

Bigger picture: The hotel purchase lines up with a countywide shift towards prioritizing moving people off the streets — even if only to temporary shelter — though Bass and other leaders say the ultimate goal is increasing LA’s supply of permanent, affordable housing.

Deputy Mayor of Housing Jenna Hornstock pointed out last week during a City Hall hearing that New York City shelters more than 90% of people experiencing homelessness there, while LA shelters about 34%. New York has a larger unhoused population but does not have widespread homeless encampments in most areas

“We've made a conscious decision in the past to invest funding in the creation of permanent supportive housing,” said Hornstock. “However, while it is critical to provide this permanent supportive housing, by ignoring the need for interim housing to bring people immediately off the streets, we have turned our streets into waiting rooms.”