Mayor Garcetti announced last week that he was releasing $75 million to continue renting hotel rooms for homeless Angelenos, extending Project Roomkey, with the promise of federal reimbursement from the Biden Administration. But Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman are pushing for the city to move much quicker and to widen the goal for the number of people housed.
They're arguing the city is moving too slowly and wasting federal reimbursement dollars if they don't rent more rooms and fast. The problem though is L.A. needs the money up-front because FEMA is a "slow pay" reimbursement, and the city is in the middle of a budget crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Project Roomkey is a joint state, county and city effort to temporarily house homeless people in hotel rooms. It launched last spring to help prevent the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable populations living on the street. The goal was to house 15,000 people, but at its peak in the fall, there were about 4,300 Angelenos staying in hotel rooms through the program (more on the statewide effort from PPIC here). Since then, Roomkey has been ramping down due to funding issues, and hotel sites have been closing, leaving some people back on the street. In L.A. County right now, about 2,300 Roomkey hotel rooms are under contract and 1,700 are occupied. Some funding is shifting to the state’s next priority: “Project Homekey,” which Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last fall, is buying hotels to convert them to permanent housing. L.A. County and the city have purchased about 10 motels each – not nearly enough to house tens of thousands of unsheltered Angelenos. The Biden Administration recently announced a major boon for the Project Roomkey program: an executive order authorizing 100% FEMA reimbursement for what local governments spend to shelter people in separate rooms (non-congregate) until the end of September (previously FEMA paid 75%). Since this money has a sunset – every week L.A. waits without snapping up hotel rooms translates to lost federal reimbursement dollars. City Councilmembers Bonin and Raman have introduced a motion to explore renting thousands more rooms, to maximize the FEMA money. Today on AirTalk, we discuss where the project stands and what barriers remain amid the push for expansion.
With guest host Libby Denkmann
Jennifer Hark-Dietz, executive director of PATH, a statewide homeless housing and services agency
Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, principal analyst for Los Angeles County’s homeless initiative; she tweets @Liz_Ben_Ishai