Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Boyle Heights Project

L.A. Homeless Complex Moves Forward

The empty lot on the corner of 1st Street and Lorena Street in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles last September, where a proposed homeless housing complex was blocked by a city council committee. Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times
The proposal was a 49-unit homeless housing complex on a vacant corner in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles. But it ran into a wall of neighborhood opposition — and was blocked by Jose Huizar, the city councilman who represents the area.

For over a year, the Boyle Heights project loomed as a dispiriting reminder of the challenges of building housing for the homeless — no matter that California is in the midst of a housing crisis and Los Angeles voters last year agreed to spend $1.2 billion on homeless housing construction.

But this week, Mr. Huizar dropped his opposition. For anyone concerned with the crisis, this seems a moment worth examining.

Mr. Huizar said he changed his mind after the nonprofit agency building the project agreed to include a child-care center, increase security and conduct an environmental impact study, since the land has a dormant oil well on it. Mr. Huizar said his initial mistrust of the agency, A Community of Friends, was resolved after the two sides met and the agency agreed to those alterations.

“Look, I approve these projects in my district all the time,” he said. “It’s not a matter of Nimbyism. You have to have the trust of the community and that did not exist.”

The reversal comes as there has been mounting public concern — and embarrassment — over homelessness here, and frustration with city and neighborhood leaders who have been blocking such projects. Neighborhoods once objected to shelters on the grounds that they would draw homeless people to their streets. But in what advocates for the homeless say is a significant shift in public attitudes, the spread of homeless encampments means that for many neighborhoods, the choice might be homeless people camped out on the corner or living in an actual building up the street.

Another factor may have been a series of Los Angeles Times editorials criticizing public officials for blocking shelters — including Mr. Huizar. The councilman, the paper reported, called “just before this series was put to bed to say he’d changed his mind and would urge the City Council to approve the Boyle Heights project.”

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