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In Los Angeles, 600,000 expected to apply for just 2,400 Section 8 vouchers

Dave Ransom  |  Issue: November | December 2017

Housing emergency much larger than the 90,000 living on the streets


Homeless encampment in Oakland, CA

Homeless encampment in Oakland, CA, where a one bedroom apartment now costs $4,000 a month. Developers are dispossessing whole communities. The city gave out 1,000 building permits in the first quarter of 2017, but not one to build affordable housing.
PHOTO: Austin Long-Scott


Officials expect more than 600,000 Angelenos to apply for just 2,400 Section 8 housing vouchers later this month. That’s all that will become available when they open the waiting list for the first time since 2004.

People at the bottom of the old list are just now getting vouchers. But in 13 years the number of people unable to afford L.A.’s rising rents has skyrocketed.

Indeed, more than 600,000 Angelenos qualify for the program, under which low-income recipients pay 30 percent of their income for rent, while the federal government picks up the rest. (Thirty percent is what the government thinks people should pay, to have enough left to live a healthy life.)

But not even all of the 600,000 who apply will get on the waiting list. With only 2,400 vouchers coming available each year, the housing authority will use a lottery to select 20,000 for the list, some of whom will wait for more than eight years for a voucher.


leaders of the homeless movement

Walkers in action, ‘Defend our homes, the right to exist and against the Trump Wall’ in San Francisco brought together leaders of the homeless movement throughout California and the West.
PHOTO: Paula Lomazzi


“The other 580,000 will be out of luck,” writes the Los Angeles Times.

Even the housing authority is scandalized. “It’s going to expose the tremendous need there is in Los Angeles for affordable housing,” its chief executive, Douglas Guthrie, told the Times.

As the numbers show, that need is much greater than just the 90,000 people living on the Los Angeles streets. The Times interviewed one of the last people on the old waiting list, Tamara Meeks, who has waited 13 years for a voucher. Meeks lives on the back porch of a friend of a friend and sleeps on the kitchen floor.

Meanwhile, speculators’ destruction of affordable housing in Los Angeles continues apace, as they buy up properties and drive up rents in neighborhood after neighborhood, sometimes with the rapidity of a prairie fire.

Los Angeles’ longtime Latino neighborhood, Boyle Heights, is the most recent on the firing line for gentrification. Speculators are “getting priced out of downtown,” one investor explained to the LA Weekly. The tipping point is coming, he says. He’s trying to get in before the mob.

Boyle Heights has been in the bottom 10 percent of Los Angeles neighborhoods by income. Now speculators are bringing in wealthier tenants, and rents in have gone up more than 10 percent a year for the last four years. The Weekly reported that tenants of one new owner, B.J. Turner, saw rents increase by 60 to 80 percent. They went on a rent strike.

Turner has renamed the apartments “Mariachi Crossing,” because of their proximity to Mari-achi Plaza, where Angelenos have long gone to hire mariachis for parties. But the mariachis are being forced out of the neighborhood, some of them evicted from nearby apartments, others priced out.

All this has already happened in downtown Los Angeles. where major international investors have been buying up property and erecting luxury condo towers. The billion-dollar Metroplex complex is bringing condos on the market for as much as $1,000 a square foot — that’s $1 million for a medium-sized apartment.

Now the big speculators are moving into Los Angeles’ historic old theater district, where a subsidiary of Shanghai Construction Group has broken ground for a 35-story complex. They plan to market their condos as “affordable” by pricing tiny 20-foot-to-20-foot units at $350,000.

That will be nice for folks who can come up with a $70,000 downpayment. But it won’t mean much for the 580,000 Angelenos kicked off the Section 8 waiting list.

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