Editor’s note: The following is a summary of the most recent meeting of the LAHSA Commission (it can be viewed here), held on April 28, 2023. We’ll be covering future meetings, which are held about once a month.
People tend to think of their local city council, or maybe their mayor, when they want something done about homelessness — but in Los Angeles County, the primary entity providing housing and services to people fallen on hard times is not the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the LA City Council, or even the Pomona City Council. It’s a mysterious joint powers authority, the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority (LAHSA).
Holding duties to both directly provide services and funnel federal funds to nonprofits and other entities, the LAHSA is overseen by a 10-member commission, which is appointed by LA city officials along with the Board of Supervisors. The agency also controls housing placement decisions for unhoused people.
As opaque as one might imagine such a meeting to be for the average Angeleno, the April 28 event was not without revealing details about homelessness policy in the region. The meeting began with a report from LAHSA’s newly appointed CEO and director, Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum, who announced the creation of a new task force, to cut red tape. And Mayor Karen Bass, who launched her Inside Safe initiative to remove encampments and eventually house people earlier this year, was in attendance.
Director Adams Kellum also urged the Commission to return to evaluating homeless services providers based on how they perform. Mayor Bass, in her remarks to the board, said she had been sticking her neck out for landlords, whenever she urged them to accept housing vouchers; and Supervisor Lindsey Horvath questioned who the staff think they serve exactly. Also discussed were efforts to better serve unhoused Latinos.
Adams Kellum told the commission she had assembled a task-force, which met May 1, to work on cutting any red tape preventing people from getting housed quickly.
The first meeting of this task force was attended by representatives of “the Department of Health Services, Housing for Health, Department of Mental Health, Los Angeles Housing Department, Homeless Initiative, and LAHSA,” according to LAHSA spokesperson Ahmad Chapman.
Adams Kellum also referenced Housing Central Command, an initiative set up in 2020, under the prior LAHSA head, Heidi Marston, to address many logistical problems in homeless services and housing, such as permanent housing units sitting vacant for a long time, despite long waiting lists of people who need the housing
How LAHSA service provider contracts are being measured
Adams Kellum relayed concerns from homeless services providers about how their contracts with LAHSA were evaluated. It appears that rather than being judged based on performance, providers are being judged based on “contract utilization,” a term they didn’t define, but seemed to imply that LAHSA may not have been been evaluating service providers based on the type metrics that most Angelenos would have expected — which is whether people were being successfully housed and were able to stay housed.
“They really are asking us, as service providers, to return to performance management, that we’re not just looking at contract utilization as a measure of success, but success as a measure of success, that housing is a measure of success, retention is a measure of success and inspiring people to come out of encampments into housing is a measure of success,” said Adams Kellum.
LAPP reached out to LAHSA for clarification on what “contract utilization” meant vs. “performance management,” but did not hear back.
The commission also included consideration of a report on an internal auditing plan, which pointed to a need to audit based on “performance,” rather than merely on compliance. That report was approved as part of the consent agenda. A consent agenda is a batch of meeting agenda items that are approved with a single vote and without comment.
What else did officials say during this meeting?
During a discussion exploring the difficulties around housing vouchers (financial assistance, often provided by the federal government, to help cover a portion of someone’s rent), Mayor Bass said that she wanted to launch a public campaign to convince landlords to accept voucher holders. Bass also said that she had spoken to landlords who are reluctant to accept the vouchers from unhoused people, for a variety of reasons.
“I kind of stuck my neck out with them, telling them ‘We won’t abandon you, we will help you with this person, we won’t walk away from the person,’” said Bass, referring to sticking her neck out for landlords not unhoused people.
The commission’s vice chair, Jacqueline Waggoner, noted that one of the major obstacles is that even with vouchers, many people still cannot afford housing. She added that public officials are taking steps to tackle housing discrimination. As an alternative to what was characterized as a troubled voucher system, she pointed to Adams Kellum’s championing of “master leasing,” which gives service providers and public officials more control over the renting out of units to voucher holders.
Who does LAHSA serve?
Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, who made the unusual decision to appoint herself to the LAHSA board, also sought some clarity from the agency staff about who they think they represent. LAHSA is often viewed as catering more to the needs of the city of Los Angeles, than to the other 84 cities it serves.
Horvath said that as supervisors, they are often asked what LAHSA’s role is “as it relates to other cities, and whether LAHSA is only focused on the city of LA.
“We get asked on the Board [of supervisors] a lot about, ‘What is the role of LAHSA as it relates to other cities?’ Is LAHSA just about the coordination of whatever is happening in the city of Los Angeles and how the county works with the city of LA, or is LAHSA about the city of Los Angeles, the 87 other cities, the unincorporated area and how the county supports all of that together. And so I want to get all of that clear from you how you understand that and how you want to drive the bus for LAHSA.”
Adams Kellum responded that LAHSA is a joint powers authority, and that it should cater to all cities in the county, adding that in her experience, it is often necessary to cross borders, especially since many people do not recognize those boundaries to begin with.
“If I could choose, I believe that as a joint powers authority, we should be concerned about the other cities as well. The mayor and I talk about that, that folks don’t know what city they are in. They are in L.A., they’re in Culver City … so I believe our efforts have to cross lines and they have to be coordinated — and the supervisors I am responsible to have pointed out that we have responsibilities beyond the city of Los Angeles.”
LAHSA’s Latino Homelessness Workgroup
Clifton Trotter, LAHSA’s equity director, gave a presentation on LAHSA’s efforts to better understand and address the needs of Latinos who are unhoused. The agency’s Latinos Experiencing Homelessness workgroup has met a couple of times now, he said, and some of the main recommendations of the group are to:
- Do a better job of obtaining demographic information about Latinos experiencing homelessness
- Educate and provide resources to help get the documents they need for applications, such as Social Security cards, as well as relaxing requirements around documentation.
- Translate documentation into Spanish
- Better accommodate multigenerational housing needs of many Latinos, including relaxing occupancy requirements of housing vouchers and purchasing larger units.
LAHSA is also putting out a request for qualifications (a call for firms to apply to provide paid services to an agency) for firms to be a consultant for the workgroup.
Trotter also mentioned that LAHSA is helping with a Latino Homelessness Kick-Off Summit being organized by LA County’s Anti-Racism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative (ARD). It was tentatively scheduled for May 12, although the date could be pushed to May 19, Trotter said at the time.
There was also some discussion during this meeting around how the LAHSA’s investigation into Latino homelessness is modeled on and inspired by LAHSA’s work on studying the needs of Black Angelenos experiencing homelessness. Adams Kellum said that among her priorities will be “equity,” pointing to how the efforts of the “ad hoc committee on Black people experiencing homelessness,” which resulted in a report, led to LAHSA talking about systemic racism and inequities for the first time. Following that report, LAHSA also looked at racial bias in a vulnerability scoring tool, known as the VI-SPDAT, which asks exhaustive and very personal questions of unhoused people, in order to decide how to match them to services. The agency is now “moving away from using that as the sole source” for deciding if a resource is appropriate for someone.
Presentation by the Los Angeles County Development Authority
The Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA), which works frequently with LAHSA, gave a presentation on the from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) “formula grants” that they apply for — these include the CDBG, Home, and Emergency Solutions Grants. LACDA also runs the county’s Section 8 and public housing program, also with HUD assistance — but this year, this county agency received 1.3% less in grants from HUD compared to the previous year.
Three LACDA community meetings were held in person in November. The public comment period for the LA county development authority’s action plan for using the grants ended May 4. The action plan needs to be submitted to HUD in June.
The action plan includes some statistics on the long waiting lists for housing (see page 51 of the PDF, 43 of the report):
- For the county’s public housing program, the wait is between three and five years. The county’s public housing waiting list includes 24,094 applicants, of whom 42% are African American.
- For Section 8 housing choice vouchers, the wait can be as long as 15 years. There are 33,002 applicants on the county’s waiting list for Section 8, 48% of whom are Black. About a quarter of applicants are elderly and 27% are disabled.
- Both of the lists are closed for public registration, but they accept referrals through LAHSA’s coordinated entry system and other partnering agencies that work with families that are facing homelessness. The Section 8 housing choice voucher waiting list was last updated 2013.
Stats on the county’s public housing and section 8 programs, from the presentation LACDA made to the LAHSA commission:
Links in the story:
- LACDA (Los Angeles County Development Authority): DRAFT of 2023-2028 Housing and Community Development Consolidated Plan for the LA Urban County
- The Markup: L.A.’s Scoring System for Subsidized Housing Gives Black and Latino People Experiencing Homelessness Lower Priority Scores – The Markup
- LAHSA: Report And Recommendations Of The Ad Hoc Committee On Black People Experiencing Homelessness
- Los Angeles Times: L.A.’s top homeless services agency could be in for overhaul – Los Angeles Times
- LAHSA, City & County Announce ‘Housing Central Command’
- LA Public Press: Bass promises a new day on homelessness in LA but the people moved into motels have questions
- Urban Institute: Research Report on Master Leasing in Los Angeles
- Elizabeth Chou on Twitter: “LA Mayor Karen Bass is speaking at a news conferencing about @LAHomeless picking Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum to lead the authority. Kellum has been the head of St. Joseph Center, which provides services to unhoused people in and around the Venice (and to a wider area)
- LAHSA Commission April 28, 2023 Meeting Zoom Recording
Since the April 28, 2023 LAHSA commission meeting, these committee meetings were also held :
Wednesday, May 17, 2023 9a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Thursday, May 18, 2023, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Friday, May 19 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.