With its faded facade and its iron curtains down, the Cecil Hotel appears to have been abandoned. But inside, it’s a completely different story. Located near Skid Row, a neighborhood in Los Angeles where more than 4,000 homeless people live, the historic 14-story building was partially renovated just a year ago by a private investor to create rental housing there, moderate for people in great uncertainty.
600 new homes… two thirds empty
The building welcomes tenants vouchers, social vouchers given by the government to people living below the poverty line. A rare public-private partnership in this district in full gentrification, where monthly rent for a studio often exceeds $2,500 (€2,300). “Inside the Cecil Hotel, the rooms are spartan. I share the toilet, bathroom and kitchen with other tenants.” says Rachel, one of the site’s residents, down to smoke a cigarette at the bottom of her new building. “But at least I have a roof over my head, which not everyone in LA has,” says this forty-one woman with dyed blue hair and a face marked by the harshness of life on the streets.
Paradoxically, the building, which opened a year ago and has 600 apartments, is still two-thirds empty, although two blocks from the Cecil Hotel, hundreds of homeless people are camping in tents or under huge tarps.
Regulation, a key obstacle
According to a recent study by Los Angeles Times, these vacant homes near Skid Row reflect a central problem: local and federal regulations that slow the process of rehousing the homeless. Potential tenants who use housing certificates, for example, must have their room inspected and certified by the housing authority before they can move in, which can take months.
Bypassing these centers of gravity is one of the priorities that the new Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, has displayed. As soon as he took office on Monday, December 12, the city councilor kept one of the key promises of his campaign: to declare a state of emergency in the face of the homeless crisis, the number of which – 42,000 – continues to rise. increase (+1.7% between 2020 and 2022).
In addition to the symbol, this decision aims to give him a free hand to act: the state of emergency should allow Karen Bass to speed up the issuance of building permits, to circumvent regulations and dispense, in certain cases, according to a large number of commissions and public authorities .
Pressure from stubborn neighbors
For Benjamin Henwood, director of the Center for Research on Homelessness at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles“certain rules adopted in recent years have been influenced by pressure groups that have joined what is known in the US as NIMBYsm (Not In My Back Yard, “not in my backyard”)”. This phenomenon describes residents’ opposition to the development of local projects of general interest, such as social housing, that are considered harmful to their quality of life or to their heritage. “Nimbies can, for example, influence the land use plan, which can limit the possibilities for building projects”.
In Los Angeles, however, some housing rights activists doubt Karen Bass’ desire to resist head-on “nimbyst” pressure. “I don’t see any real difference between Bass and the former mayor,” notes Theo Henderson, creator of the We the Unhoused podcast, which gives voice to the homeless. “The fact that she has not taken a stand against ordinances passed during the pandemic that prohibit the setting up of tents in parks, on bridges or near schools speaks volumes. »
A significant phenomenon in California and New York
The latest report released by the Federal Department of Housing counts 580,466 homeless in the USA (2020 figures). After declining, this phenomenon, which affected nearly 650,000 people in 2007, declined until 2016 before rising again.
two states have seen a dramatic increase since 2007: California (+23%, with 171,000 people living on the streets by 2022) and New York State (+18%, 75,000 people).
IN 70% of cases, these are single people. If half of the homeless are white, African Americans are overrepresented: 37% of the homeless, for 12% of the US population.