A week after data was released showing homelessness in Los Angeles increased by 16% last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an open letter to residents Tuesday defending the city’s action on the issue.
The results of the annual homeless count, released last Tuesday, showed roughly 36,300 individuals living on L.A. city streets. Last year, there was a slight decrease in the homeless population.
A recently uncovered report to City Council warned that people experiencing homelessness and “poor sanitary conditions” were contributing to a rat infestation at Garcetti’s workplace, L.A. City Hall, the Los Angeles Times reported.
And two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Police Department was fined by state regulators for filthy conditions and rats at a downtown L.A. station where a detective contracted typhoid fever.
“As your mayor, I take full responsibility for our response to this crisis,” Garcetti wrote in Tuesday’s message. “And like everyone who has seen families in tents or spoken to a homeless veteran in need, I am both heartbroken and impatient.”
The letter appears to be a response to recent criticism leveled against the mayor and his efficacy on the issue. A column published last weekend by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, headlined “Welcome to Garcetti’s L.A.: Heaps of trash, hordes of rats and very little leadership,” roundly panned the mayor’s inability to get things done on the homelessness crisis and garnered national media attention.
Lopez wrote that Angelenos need leadership from “someone bold, maybe even a little reckless, the kind of leader who rewards friends and punishes enemies, knocks heads, detests blue ribbon panels, leads caravans of triage workers to every encampment, and takes a blowtorch to red tape.”
Days before, Lopez penned another column titled, “Homelessness in L.A. is a catastrophe in motion, and our leaders are largely to blame.”
A note to readers at the bottom of the most recent Lopez piece says Garcetti responded with “a text about his achievements and ongoing attempts to address homelessness.”
In the open letter released Tuesday, the mayor promised to “be bold” and “cut red tape that delays new housing.”
Garcetti opened the message by calling the current housing crisis “the second-worst disaster we’ve ever seen in the Golden State,” after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
The mayor then says L.A. must face the housing crisis by building housing.
He cites the city’s bridge housing program, which aimed to erect a temporary shelters in each council district by the middle of this year. So far, only one has opened, in the El Pueblo Historic District.
All projects funded by Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion housing bond approved by city voters in 2016, remain “in the pipeline,” he wrote.
But Garcetti says he’s adding a team to his office this week to fast-track HHH-funded housing and will set up a legal assistance fund to help renters fight eviction.
He also pointed out that independent developers constructed 16,525 units of housing in 2018, which state data shows was more than any other California city last year.
“But that’s not enough, because Angelenos are becoming homeless faster than we can provide housing for them,” he added.
The mayor also pledged to work with business owners and others in the private sector to provide sleeping space and jobs, and will ask landlords to work with rehousing programs and for residents to welcome shelters in their neighborhoods.