L.A. Claims Plaintiffs in Homelessness Lawsuit Exaggerated Per-Bed Costs


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Attorneys for the city of Los Angeles said today that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the homelessness crisis misstated the per-bed cost of tiny home communities, one of several proposed interim housing solutions to serve people experiencing homelessness under threat of the coronavirus.

Last week, the plaintiffs -- a coalition of Skid Row-area business owners, formerly homeless and disabled city dwellers who are suing the city and county of Los Angeles -- wrote in a report to the federal judge presiding over their suit that the per-bed cost of the tiny cabins is “outrageous.''

The small, easily assembled dwellings have an average per-bed rate of $41,932, which is “several times higher than any other municipality or agency that has utilized these same structures,'' the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights' Sept. 7 status report reads. “No other program utilizing these structures has anywhere close to that same per-bed rate.''

In its response filed Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court, the city states that the per-bed rate is actually $4,193, taking into account the expected reuse of the beds by as many as 10 people over a five-year period.

“The communities being developed in the city are not only for short-term emergency shelter, but are being developed to provide interim housing for three to five years of use, if needed, to serve people experiencing homelessness,'' city attorneys wrote. “The city expects each bed will service and house multiple people over the three-to-five-year period.

“When appropriately accounting for the number of individuals each bed will serve over the five years, the per-bed rate is not $41,932.83, as plaintiffs suggest, but rather $4,193. The tiny homes are intended to provide humane housing with dignity, not merely to warehouse persons experiencing homelessness. As such, the city is committed to developing units that are safe, hygienic, and capable of providing services for the residents' basic daily needs.''

Based on data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the city expects each bed in a tiny home to serve as a temporary shelter for an individual for six months, after which the city expects that person to be placed in a longer-term solution, allowing that bed to provide shelter for somebody new.

“At this rate, assuming 10 people are served per bed over the 5-year period, the capital cost per bed would total $4,193,'' the city lawyers wrote in their response.

Costs associated with tiny home communities include infrastructure for showers, toilets, sinks and laundry facilities, plus showers, fire safety and sufficient power.

In last week's report, the L.A. Alliance said it applauded the agreements reached by the city and county to provide an additional 6,700 beds over the next 16 months, with funding for five years thereafter.

“However, such programs must be implemented in the most cost-effective manner possible, to ensure limited resources are able to do the most good,'' according to the document. “For decades Angelenos have watched their local government spend astronomical amounts of money to provide too little relief for too many. Year after year the budget to address homelessness increases, and year after year the city's homeless population continues to grow, along with it devastation, disease, mental illness, crime, fires, unusable sidewalks, and death.''

The city responded that it is currently working to establish a variety of different types of shelters as quickly as possible, “with each intervention being selected because it is the most appropriate to serve the people experiencing homelessness in each particular location.''

The tiny home communities, which currently total 525 beds in development, “are only one type of intervention proposed by the city's Council Districts,'' city attorneys wrote. “In addition to tiny homes, the interventions in development include permanent supportive housing, A Bridge Homes, other interim housing, and safe parking (for people living in RVs).''

The L.A. Alliance accuses the city and county of not doing enough to address the homeless problem, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs' latest filing says that during a “massive budget crisis, requiring public employees to take furlough days and the city otherwise cutting crucial services,'' it is essential that funds spent on homeless projects are done as economically as possible.

Utilizing tiny homes in available parking lots and unused or underused city property “is a good and fair use of public funds, due to the low cost, durable quality, and expeditious construction of the structures,'' the group's filing said. “However, the estimated cost of infrastructure to support these shelters in Los Angeles is nothing short of outrageous.''

The plaintiffs allege that the “blame does not lie with (tiny homes), which provide cost-effective emergency options, but rather with the bloated budget and burdensome process the city has developed for these projects.''

A hearing continuing efforts to settle the lawsuit is scheduled for Thursday.

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