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Monday, Oct 3, 2022
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Hotels and The Homeless

Ray Patel is not too happy with the decision by the Los Angeles City Council to put a ballot measure before voters that would require hotels in the city to make unsold rooms available to the homeless.

As the owner of the Welcome Inn, in Eagle Rock, he’s hoping that the electorate shoots the measure down.
“Whatever the intent was, we don’t think it will provide a solution for the homeless community,” said Patel, who is president of the Northeast Los Angeles Hotel Owners Association.

The Los Angeles Responsible Hotel ordinance will go before voters in the primary election on March 5, 2024.
While Mark Davis, chief executive of Sun Hill Properties Inc., owner of the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City hotel, was pleased with the council’s action, he said that his biggest concern should the measure pass is the health and safety of guests and employees, because the hotel and its staff have no control over who will get a room and no way of knowing the hygienic issues they may bring in.

“While we have a heart for them, we don’t think this is the solution,” Davis said.
Peter Hillan, spokesman for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, was also happy with the council’s decision to place the proposal before the voters.

The association is empathetic to the plight of the homeless and has been supportive of a number of solutions, Hillan said
“This one, however, we think needed greater consideration and the council came to that conclusion as well,” Hillan added.

The council could have directly passed the proposed ordinance, but instead voted 12 to 0 on Aug. 5 to send the measure to the ballot. The initiative is backed by Unite Here Local 11, the hospitality workers union, which had gathered enough signatures to place it before the voters. The association’s members would consider waging a campaign against the measure if it comes to that, Hillan said.

The action was the exact opposite of what the council did back in June when it passed the Workplace Security, Workload, Wage and Retention Measures for Hotel Workers ordinance, which Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law on July 7.
Like the current ballot measure, the workplace security initiative was backed by Unite Here, which had collected enough signatures to get it before voters.

In that case, however, the council decided to pass the ordinance directly. The ordinance gives safety protections to hotel housekeeping employees and raises the minimum wage at additional hotels in the city.

 

Vouchers

The newest ordinance, if approved by voters, would require that hotels accept vouchers from an unsheltered person to stay in an unused room for up to multiple nights.

“Vacant hotel rooms offer an underutilized opportunity to address the problem of homelessness,” the proposed law states. “This ordinance creates a program under which the City’s Housing Department will identify hotels with vacant rooms, refer unhoused families and individuals to such hotels, and provide payment at a fair market rate for their lodging.”
The big concern for Patel is with the language of the initiative.

“Because of that we don’t know who is going to be liable if someone is injured. We don’t know who is liable for any room damages,” he added. Also unknown is if the voucher is for one night or multiple nights or extended stays, Patel continued.

A view of the lobby at the Hilton Universal City hotel.

Additionally, unlike Project Roomkey, the federally funded program that had hotel owners voluntarily provide rooms to the homeless to stay in as they waited for permanent housing, the initiative gives no direction on social services that can be offered to the unhoused, such as mental health or addiction help.

At the Universal Hilton, the hotel is at 98 percent occupancy year-round, so its participation in the program would likely be slim to begin with, Davis said.

Still, if passed, the ordinance would require that by 2 p.m. any hotel in the city of Los Angeles would need to estimate how many unused rooms would be available for the homeless.

“We are supposed to be able to predict at 2 in the afternoon what that might look like, and that is, frankly, impossible,” Davis said.

The hotel, adjacent to Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and City Walk, is very much in demand, he added.
“Sometimes we will have 30 to 40 people arrive without a reservation and walk in,” Davis said. “A lot of people make plans late in their travels or they sometimes just say, ‘Hey let’s go to Universal today’ and they will head this way.”

Because of these examples, it is difficult to predict how many rooms would be available at the end of the day, Davis continued.

 

‘Undue burden’

Hillan, of the hotel association, said that there are a number of processes included in the ordinance that would put an “undue burden” on hotel owners and operators and their employees.

For one, how would the individual needing shelter be allocated a room at a hotel? Another is how will the price be set to compensate the hotels, given that pricing is based on seasonality and demand, he said.

For unsheltered individuals needing social services, how would those be provided, as well as liability issues, Hillan added “There was a lot that hadn’t been made clear to hoteliers,” he said.

Davis asked about what would happen to the homeless person after the voucher was used and expired.
“It is very concerning that not only would the voucher system enter them into a domain next to minors and children with the potential of hygiene issues being brought into the hotel, then what happens once the voucher is completed?” he said.

“Who gets them and who transports them to their next home? Most of these homeless have no transportation, no way to get anywhere.”

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