The release of the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count revealed the harsh reality that, despite record investment in housing and services, the number of Los Angeles residents experiencing homelessness continues to rise. As a lead agency for many of the strategies outlined in the county’s Homeless Initiative, the Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA)—recently created by merging the county’s Community Development Commission and Housing Authority—is a key player in the region’s efforts to combat the crisis. LACDA Executive Director Monique King-Viehland spoke at a recent AIA-LA City Leaders Breakfast Reception on the authority’s efforts to preserve and create affordable housing opportunities across the county despite a staggering deficit and persistent uncertainty of surrounding federal housing funding and policy. TPR presents her remarks below, edited for space.
“We have an incredible dearth of affordable housing units, plus staggering homelessness numbers, while the county’s vacancy rate is at 2-3 percent. We can’t build our way out of this crisis fast enough.” —Monique King-Viehland
Monique King-Viehland: The Los Angeles Community Development Commission (CDC), Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA), and the Redevelopment Agency used to be three separate legal entities that were formed back in 1982. With the dissolution of CRAs, they became two separate entities, but they’ve always had one executive director. I took charge at the CDC and HACoLA about 20 months ago. But even though we were under one director, we were still working in silos. That was not helping us address a homelessness and affordability crisis of unparalleled magnitude.
Almost two years ago, I brought up to the Board of Supervisors that we needed to merge these entities and think more collectively and holistically about the needs of our clients, the residents, the county, and businesses. On May 16, the Board of Supervisors formally approved our merger into the Los Angeles County Development Authority. Now we are one legal entity within the County that is responsible for housing, community development, and economic development.
The mission of our agency has been the same since 1982: building better lives and better neighborhoods. We spent a good deal of time looking at whether that mission still makes sense in light of all the changes that have happened since then, and we decided that it is still the core of who we are. However, we also went further and asked: What is our vision?
For us, a vision goes beyond a mission. A vision is something that you strive for but will probably stumble at and fail along the way. A vision may not be accomplished during any one person’s tenure in the agency, but is still something that we fundamentally need to push toward as an agency.
LACDA’s New Vision: Ending Generational Poverty and Homelessness
We recently adopted a new vision of ending generational poverty and homelessness. As you can imagine, that’s a big vision—but it’s what we’re working toward. All of our programs—everything we’re doing—goes beyond our mission of building better lives and better neighborhoods. We’re not doing what we need to be doing unless we are changing and transforming peoples’ lives, which means ending generational poverty and homelessness.
Now, we’ve always been very successful as an agency. What we do, we do well. But it’s not enough to just accomplish our goals. If we’re not empathetic with our clients; if we’re not collaborating with other county departments; if we’re not transparent about our funding sources, then we are not successful. We are now focusing, not just on what we do, but on how we do it. That is an equal measure in how we evaluate our success. To that end, we’ve implemented several core values or “basics.”
Housing: Affordable/Public Housing
The first and largest pillar of our work is affordable housing. We are one of 19 public housing authorities in the county. We operate not only on behalf of Los Angeles County, but also on behalf of 62 incorporated cities. We operate a little more than 3,200 public and affordable housing units across 68 sites countywide, spanning from one end of the county’s 4,000 square miles to the other. Some sites are as large as Carmelitos in Long Beach, with 713 units for families and seniors, but we also have small, scattered sites with as few as four units in a building. It runs the gamut.
Housing vouchers are also a very important resource for us. The LACDA administers more than 23,000 Section 8 vouchers that house about 100,000 people in the county every year. Additionally, we provide about 2,700 vouchers through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (VASH), a rental subsidy program for veterans. We also administer 1,800 Continuum of Care vouchers, which provide rental assistance for special needs populations.
We also now oversee, in partnership with other county departments, several board initiatives for a variety of ordinances. For example, we’re partnering with the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs to develop a rental registry as part of the temporary rent stabilization ordinance that was recently extended through December 2020.
The county also has a mobile home rent regulation ordinance. As an East Coast transplant, I did not initially understand the scale at which mobile homes provide affordable housing in Los Angeles County. The Board has really stepped up by extending a temporary ordinance to provide the same kind of rent control provisions to mobile homes as stationary homes, as well as looking at opportunities to provide financing and renovation assistance to owners of mobile home parks.
Where we get the biggest bang for our buck is in our new Housing Investment and Finance Division, which does homeownership programs. The LACDA provides about 55-75 low-to-moderate-income families with financing, closing cost assistance, and down payment assistance every year. We also administer the state mortgage credit certificate program, a home improvement and handy worker program that provides renovation assistance to seniors and low-income families, and a residential sound insulation program for low-to-moderate-income homeowners who live in the path of the airport.
Probably the largest investment we’ve made recently, as you might guess given our current crisis, is in housing development. Between March 2018 and March 2019, we financed 3,400 units across 48 developments. Up until last year, if we funded 3,400 units in five years, that was a huge push for us. For us to fund 3,400 units in one year is very significant and really reflects the increased emphasis, focus, and investment that the county is making around affordable and supportive housing development.
We built 573 units this year and put 300 Section 8 vouchers into those developments. It’s not enough to just build housing; people need to be able to afford to live there. We invested over $245 million this year in supportive and affordable housing development, and released a note for another $207 million based in a new state program called No Place Like Home.
We are a partner in the County’s homelessness initiative, Measure H. This quarter-cent sales tax does not provide us a lot of direct funding, but we are a critical partner in the Homeless Initiative Strategy. Of the 51 strategies in the homelessness initiative, we are a partner or lead on 27 of them. The largest is our Homeless Incentive Program, which leverages our federal voucher resources by incentivizing landlord participation in the Section 8 program.
Los Angeles County has a deficit of 517,000 units just to meet today’s demand for affordable housing. And according to our point-in-time count, we have 59,000 people homeless on the streets on any given night. We have this incredible dearth of affordable housing units, plus staggering homelessness numbers, while the county’s vacancy rate is at 2-3 percent. We can’t build our way out of this crisis fast enough. We do have to focus on building, but we also have to make sure landlords in our existing housing resources are participating in our existing rental subsidy programs.
To do that, the Homeless Incentive Program provides security deposit assistance for landlords. If they agree to participate in our program and rent to a homeless veteran or a formerly homeless client, we’ll pay to hold that unit while they screen those clients so that we can get people into units.
One thing we heard from landlords is that they are concerned that if they rent to Section 8 clients, their units will be damaged. So we have a damage mitigation fund—although we’ve been operating this program for two years and only once have we had to use it. But it’s comforting to landlords and has increased program participation considerably. Since July 2018, we’ve housed more than 940 homeless individuals through the HIP program alone.
Other affordable housing programs we operate include Bringing Families Home, which provides assistance to families whose only impediment to reunification is a need for housing, and the Accessory Dwelling Unit Pilot Program, which we are working to expand. All of these programs fall under the LACDA’s first pillar: housing development.
Our second pillar is community development. We operate the largest Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program of any urban county in the country. It’s pretty staggering: We operate it in all five supervisorial districts, which involves funding seven other county departments and operating in 48 participating cities.
Our CDBG program provides a variety of improvements in peoples’ communities—everything from building and funding community centers, senior centers, park facilities, and public space, to programs for job access and youth development, and anything you could think of.
What’s great about our program is that we leverage it at a greater than a one-to-one ratio. For every $1 we get in federal funding, we leverage it for another $1.36, which is a pretty significant investment. Those dollars are really important, and they are driven by census counts. So let me make a plug here to volunteer for Census 2020; it is a critical resource for us that really impacts the dollars going into our communities.
The LACDA’s last pillar is economic development. We do everything from small business lending to incubation to rehabilitation programs for small businesses. We have a program called SMART Funding funded by a variety of resources. We changed the brand couple of years ago. We used to say we had several separate loan programs: a CDBG loan program, and an EDA loan program, and another alphabet soup loan program that businesses don’t care about so, now what we do is: We lend.
We figure out what loans you need and how to get them to you, but we lend under SMART Funding. That means we give you the best we can get; we make sure the interest rates are as low as possible, because ultimately, we want to fund businesses that are growing within the county. Through that program, we lend up to $1.5 million to small businesses. Since August 2017, we’ve provided more than $3.5 million in loans to local businesses.
Another part of our economic development work is the Renovate Program, which offers free façade renovations or improvements to small businesses countywide. That program provides grants of up to $300,000 for property owners to renovate their storefronts, which ultimately helps the businesses leasing space on that property as well. We also run an incubator, the Business Technology Center, in Altadena. It’s currently supporting 20 businesses with about 153 employees. It has had more than 80 graduates since 1998.
David Abel: Given the hundreds of bills in the legislature related to unmet need for housing and the growing threat of cuts to Federal housing programs, the county’s progress re affordable housing doesn’t seem as rosy as you’ve just presented.
Monique King Viehland: I wouldn’t say it’s rosy. The numbers are staggering, but we are all hands on deck right now. What I’ve presented here is how we’re fighting the fight. I think we’re winning in a lot of ways, but we’re losing some ways, too. But we’re going to fight the fight because that’s what we do.
We work with the state legislature on a regular basis to advocate for bills that we think make sense and to fight against those that don’t. We travel every year to DC to meet with our Los Angeles delegation and anyone else we need to meet with, including HUD, about any provisions that could affect our work, like their recent proposal about “mixed-status” families. We can’t stop fighting, even if things are complicated at the federal and state levels, because if we stop, we’ll lose more ground than we’ve already lost. This county can’t afford not to do the work.
By the end of this fiscal year alone, we will have funded close to 4,000 units in one year. We have more than 1,000 units actively under construction—that’s huge for us. The County has committed $100 million per year for five years for affordable housing. In our recent Notice of Funding Availability, we invested more than $100 million, including funding from the Department of Mental Health, which helped ramp up efforts in advance of the approval and release of No Place Like Home. The Department of Mental Health, with support from Measure H, has committed to providing ongoing supportive services to developments. Every supportive housing development we fund includes wraparound services for all residents who need it.
There is far more funding going into affordable housing development than there’s ever been. Is it enough? No. Do we need more? Yes. Are we doing absolutely everything we can do? Absolutely.
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