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LA City Council Approves Hotel Purchase for Interim Housing

LA City Council Approves Hotel Purchase for Interim Housing

The Mayfair Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

8/19/2023

Updated: 8/19/2023

LOS ANGELES—After two days of deliberations and reports, a conflicted Los Angeles City Council approved a proposal on Aug. 18 from Mayor Karen Bass to negotiate and purchase the Mayfair Hotel for approximately $83 million for use as interim housing.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon in response to the proposal’s approval, Ms. Bass said, “We need to do all that we can to get Angelenos off the streets and into temporary housing as fast as possible while permanent housing is still being built. The proposed purchase of the Mayfair is an important step toward that goal.
“Together, with actions like this, we can sustain our momentum toward confronting the homelessness crisis,” she said.
The Council voted 11-2 to move forward with the proposal to purchase the Westlake district hotel as interim housing under Ms. Bass’ Inside Safe initiative, which aims to bring unhoused Angelenos inside to motels and address encampments across the city.
Council members Tim McOsker and Monica Rodriguez voted against the proposal, while Councilwoman Nithya Raman was absent from Friday’s meeting.
“I remain very concerned about this project, and especially around the overwhelming feedback from my constituents that there has not been adequate opportunity for community participation,” said Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez, who represents the First District, where the hotel is located.
“I have said repeatedly throughout this week, this is not a community that rejects housing or density. It is just the opposite.”
According to Ms. Hernandez, the Westlake district has repeatedly allowed “project after project”—noting there are four permanent supportive housing buildings, 14 affordable housing developments, and about 150 unsheltered within five blocks of the Mayfair Hotel.
“This debate is not about rejecting the housing that we desperately need. It’s about providing our communities with the resources to truly make a project like this one successful and digestible,” Ms. Hernandez said. “My hope is that just as we provide wraparound services for individuals and families who are in need of care, we can also wrap around the community that surrounds this hotel, a community that too often has been overlooked and underserved by our city.”
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez at the Aug. 18, 2023 city council meeting. (Youtube/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez at the Aug. 18, 2023 city council meeting. (Youtube/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Ms. Hernandez and Councilman Bob Blumenfield introduced about two dozen amendments to ensure assurances for residents living near the hotel, and to get additional financial reports to track expenditures and progress of the rehabilitation of the facility.
The amendments aim to secure more street cleaning in the Westlake district and around the hotel, increase lighting, commit the service provider to a “good neighbor policy,” establish a hotline for residents to call with complaints or concerns and give residents a seat at the table, among other things.
Councilwoman Traci Park said she heard the “loud and clear concerns of the community, the neighbors and the businesses about the lack of outreach and the sordid history of the site when it was operated as part of Project Roomkey with little oversight or attention.”
The Mayfair Hotel participated in Project Roomkey, a state and county initiative that transformed hotels into temporary homeless shelters, with the aim of providing  unhoused individuals with interim housing to stay inside and prevent the spread of coronavirus.
However, the Los Angeles Times reported the hotel’s participation in the program resulted in a “staff of security guards, nurses, hotel managers, and others grappling with drug overdoses, property damage and what they characterized as aggressive and even violent behavior.”
The city recently paid $11.5 million for damage claims filed by the hotel owners over Project Roomkey—and those repairs were not even made, according to Mr. Blumenfield, who chairs the Budget, Finance, and Innovation Committee.
Westlake residents have rallied against the mayor’s proposal fearing the operation will be a repeat of Project Roomkey. One resident claimed the community was left in shambles within the two years, sharing anecdotes of an increase of break-ins, thefts, drug use, and violence.
Elaine Alaniz, president of the Westlake North Neighborhood Council, urged the council to deny the proposal.
“The majority of people that are going to move in an are not going to serve Westlake nor the tents that are currently there,” Ms. Alaniz said. “I don’t think many of you have heard the unethical practice that there will not be funding in the future for services here.”
She further added the amendments introduced will not help the community and that the public “has no idea about what’s to happen.”
Ms. Park recognized that when promises are broken, “It is hard to come back,” speaking on her experience with a similar situation in her 11th District, where A Bridge Home facility in Venice did not meet all its commitments to the nearby community.
“Trust becomes thin among residents if there’s any left at all,” she added.
Although Ms. Park still has a lot of questions and concerns, the councilwoman said she would support the proposal and Ms. Hernandez.
“You and every member of Council District 1 are stepping up for the potential benefit of the entire city,” Ms. Park said.
Ms. Rodriguez emphasized her support for the amendments brought forth to ensure that residents get the support they need, as well as to ensure the hotel executes its operation effectively. However, she cast a “no” vote due her frustrations with the process.
“What was most frustrating is the lack of clarity, the financials associated with the acquisition, the speed with which we’re trying to accelerate and get this through, not availing any time for the community to actually be heard,” Ms. Rodriguez said, who sits on the budget committee as well.
Mr. McOsker echoed Ms. Rodriguez sentiments, and explained his “no” vote was due to a “dramatic change of policy.”
Los Angeles City Council in a meeting in Los Angeles on Aug. 18, 2023. (Youtube/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Los Angeles City Council in a meeting in Los Angeles on Aug. 18, 2023. (Youtube/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

The Council’s budget, Government Operations, and Housing and Homelessness committees approved the proposal in the last two days, in which they received and asked questions to Ms. Bass’ office, city departments, and a representative of the Weingart Center Foundation, who would oversee operation of the hotel.
Amy Benson, director of the Real Estate Services Division of the Department of General Services, said the city is estimated to spend $60 million in the acquisition of the hotel in its “as-is condition.” Ms. Bass’ proposal outlined an annual operating cost of about $5.5 million, which includes utilities, landscaping, facility maintenance, and interim security until the operator contract is in place.
The city’s Bureau of Engineering would conduct renovations estimated at about $22 million. In addition, an estimated $772,000 will be used to convert an existing pool into a pet area and for the installation of laundry facilities, as well as other improvements.
Funding for the Mayfair acquisition and renovation comes from Community Development Block Grants, federal funding for projects aimed at improving the quality of life for people with low or moderate incomes; Proposition HHH, a bond measure approved by Los Angeles voters in 2016 to fund housing and facilities to address the homelessness crisis; Municipal Housing Finance funds; city’s general fund; Homeless Emergency Account, or Inside Safe funding; and closing credits from the deal.
The Mayfair would be used to relocate and house unhoused Angelenos specifically from Skid Row for two years before taking in unhoused people from other parts of the city.
This was a commitment by Ms. Bass’ office in order to receive a $60 million encampment resolution grant to contract with a service provider.
Tanja Boykin, chief operating officer for the Weingart Center, previously said her agency would provide assurances that the operation would be different from Project Roomkey.
“The services, unlike Project Roomkey, are not voluntary, they are mandatory,” Ms. Boykin said. “This is interim housing with a goal of permanent housing in the future. So while we’re removing barriers through all of our clinical and medical resources, our case managers are ensuring that our clients are document-ready and are matched in the appropriate setting.”
Ms. Bass’ staff also emphasized the community would not be negatively impacted and reiterated their commitment to work with Ms. Hernandez, who represents the area, and those constituents.
With the Council’s approval, the mayor’s team will look to finalize the deal. The city will be slated to operate and maintain the hotel no later than Aug. 31 once the deal is closed.
The hotel will be reopened by January 2024 to transition occupants from the L.A. Grand Hotel and Skid Row.
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