Downtown LA Skyline
Housing | June 28, 2019

To End the Homelessness Crisis, We Must All Embrace Change

by Antonia Hernández

I love L.A.

My love affair started the day I arrived as a child in 1956. This was a magical place, big, incoherent and embracing, just the place a young immigrant needed to be. Newcomers were able to find a spot in the fabric of Los Angeles and, overall, everyone found a community to live in within the 88 cities that comprise L.A. County. We were a loosely connected place called L.A. And yes, the smog was terrible, but with a determined and resourceful leadership, we mostly cleaned our air.

As I traverse our many communities I am troubled and dismayed at what has become of L.A. It is bigger with lots more traffic, and we have allowed our homeless population to explode. We have failed to accommodate and embrace many of our most vulnerable residents. Seeing the thousands of homeless people living in third-world conditions breaks my heart. This is not who we are. I have spoken to hundreds of Angelenos who feel that the problem is beyond repair. Many complain that we agreed to tax ourselves and yet the problem only gets worse. We lash out at our elected officials and some of the blame is a lack of leadership and vision. But we will not resolve our homeless problem unless we too are willing to change our views of what a healthy community should look like.

And what do I mean? We must change our zoning laws to allow for more affordable housing that the poor and middle-class workers can afford. I appreciate Liam Dillion calling attention to the resistance of the Southern California Association of Governors (SCAG) to increase to our housing stock. We need our civic leaders to work together across neighborhood, city and state lines to make sure everyone of us has a safe place to call home.

We can, in part, build our way out of this problem. But we all must realize we are in this together. Los Angeles County, as well as the entire state, contends with a serious shortage of affordable apartments. Years ago, before we had a housing crisis, about 60,000 units were built in the County every year. Last year permits were issued for only 19,000 apartments and three-quarters of those were in the City of Los Angeles. The other 87 cities need to step up their production.

L.A. County can lead efforts for housing production guided by smart planning. The California Community Foundation supports local groups like LA Voice and ACT-LA who just three years ago helped galvanize voters to pass a new Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) planning tool that encourages mixed affordable and market rate housing being built near our expanding transit system. To date, TOC has approved hundreds of projects to build thousands of units, including over 2,000 deeply-affordable units. This program was the result of local government and residents engaging in thoughtful, smart planning that creates good inclusive development that will house working people, many of whom are just one financial disaster away from homelessness. The people who live, work and love in our City of Angels can drive the lasting systems change needed to make sure every one of us has an affordable home in a thriving community and be a model for our state.

Antonia Hernández is the President & CEO of the California Community Foundation


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