Homeless aid proposal threatens LA hotels


LOS ANGELES (NewsNation) — A new proposal to combat Los Angeles’s homeless problem would require hotels to offer vacant rooms to homeless people, claiming that the increase in hotel development within the city has contributed to the lack of affordable housing in the city.

The proposed initiative, called the “Responsible Hotel Ordinance,” and backed by hospitality worker union Unite Here Local 11, has been attempted in other cities before.

Hotel owners and operators packed the council chamber Friday, arguing the proposal would be dangerous and destructive to their business model.

The city council listened to many concerns, the primary one stating that staff members do not have the proper training to provide care to those with mental health and social service issues.

The city council voted to give Los Angeles residents the power to decide and the proposal will appear on ballots in 2024, the Los Angeles Times first reported.

The measure would require active hotels to regularly report vacant rooms every day by 2 pm, and owners would be prohibited from discriminating against unhoused men and women who present them prepaid vouchers.

“If this were to pass, hotels can’t operate as a profitable business in the city of LA,” said Michelle Steiner, a previous hotel general manager.

It’s an experiment that’s been attempted in cities like Austin, Texas, and Seattle.

“We have no economic data — what it will cost the city. If someone goes into a hotel room, the city is going to pay for it,” Stuart Waldman, Valley Industry and Commerce Association president, said. “We don’t know what that rate will be. If someone doesn’t leave the hotel room, the city continues to pay for it. There is no funding source. Hotels did not cause the homeless problem. Hotels are not the solution for the homeless problem.”

Unite Here Local 11, a labor union specifically for hotel, restaurant, airport, sports arena and convention workers, received enough signatures to land a spot on the ballot for the proposal.

“We have thousands of members facing eviction today. We have members who have lost their housing because they are fleeing an abusive spouse, we have members who are living out of their cars or trucks,” union organizer Carly Kirchen said.

Councilman Joe Buscaino said the hotel workers and others will actually be among those affected the most, as they will be forced into becoming “social workers” while hurting the tourism industry.

Some hotel owners and operators said they would be open to a volunteer program, but they want to see specific wrap-around services included like mental health evaluations, 24/7 security and a detailed plan to transition people to permanent housing.

“Hotels fund this city, and everything that is done in this city through tourism dollars,” Waldman said.

A similar program, Project Roomkey, was enacted in the city during the pandemic, with multistory hotels turned into makeshift shelters, giving homeless people a place to recover from COVID-19 or properly quarantine.

However, many hotel owners found that to be a disaster — with rampant drug use and fighting happening within the buildings.

Mina Dahya, who owns a hotel in Hollywood with her husband, told NewsNation affiliate KTLA that she’s against the program.

“I am compassionate of the homeless people. I want to take care of them. But I don’t think my staff and I are ready to do the combination where I have a paid guest staying with a homeless voucher guest next door,” Dahya said.

“This is a bad idea. People are not going to feel safe,” added hotel manager Juan Martinez. “My staff is not going to feel safe, so I think this is wrong.”

NewsNation affiliate KTLA contributed to this report.

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