Mayor Eric Garcetti pledges $1 billion to fight LA homelessness. Will it be enough?

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin and Rosalie Atkinson

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s so-called “justice budget” for the next fiscal year includes nearly $1 billion to fight homelessness. That money would go towards renting, buying and building more housing. It would fund programs to keep housed residents from slipping into homelessness. 

Garcetti said during his State of the City address on Monday: “When it came to homelessness, this pandemic had lessons for us. The threat of COVID finally led the federal and state governments to do something I’ve been banging the table about for a long time: Treat an emergency like an emergency and offer a FEMA-level response. Instead of fighting over crumbs to implement different homelessness solutions, we suddenly had real resources and the alignment from federal to state to local governments to begin moving the needle.”

The mayor also proposed a pilot program for a universal basic income. He wants to give some low-income families $1000 to $2000 per month for a year — no strings attached. 

The City Council still needs to approve the proposal.

Garcetti’s tone was a big reversal from last year, when the city was projecting huge deficits at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Those deficits didn’t materialize, thanks in large part to the stimulus package signed by President Biden earlier this year. 

But the mayor’s budget also reflects the increasing pressure he’s under to deliver on his years-long promise to stem the city’s homelessness crisis.

According to KCRW housing reporter Anna Scott, the largest chunk of the spending, approximately $350 million, will go to long-term housing, such as new apartment buildings for formerly unhoused residents with subsidized rents and with social services on-site. 

The key to helping solve the housing crisis in Los Angeles will be to invest in long-term supportive housing, according to Shayla Myers, a senior attorney with the Housing and Communities workgroup at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. 

“If we look back in five years and 10 years and 20 years at a moment when we had $1 billion invested in homelessness, and we spent that money not on solving the crisis, but rather on … homeless encampments rather than addressing the emergency needs, we will be no better off. And we will say that 2021 was the year we wasted $1 billion.”

She adds that despite the big price tag, it will be critical for city officials to provide new policy solutions that will address the crisis.

“The State of the City address is about the long term goals of the city. It's about the budget, yes. But it's also about the policy changes, and the rethinking of the city's attitude about how it's going to solve a crisis.”

Scott says money will also be allocated towards street clean-ups, an expansion of Project Roomkey, and legal support for Angelenos facing evictions.

She says the new proposals are indicative of the exponential pressure facing city officials to address the housing crisis in LA. 

“I wouldn't say that we've seen a complete transformation in their approach, but I do think it's fair to say that the emergency, short-term measures that they are taking now … is something new. For a long time in homelessness policy, there was sort of this dichotomy between permanent supportive housing and emergency solutions. And I think the policymakers for a long time were exclusively very focused on permanent housing,” Scott says. 

“Now city officials are much more along the lines of, ‘We need it all, we need to do emergency short-term things to assist people right now, and then we need to also have those permanent solutions.’”

It’s unclear whether the number of unhoused Angelenos has increased during the pandemic, Scott points out. That’s because the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) cancelled the official annual homeless count due to coronavirus safety concerts. 

What’s definitely clear, she says, is that residents have been hit hard. 

“I think it's safe to say that a lot of people are being financially impacted by the pandemic. And there's a very high chance that a lot more people may be pushed to the brink of homelessness because of the pandemic.”