A recent ULI Advisory Services panel offered solutions to one of the most pressing urban challenges—prevalent homelessness—by examining the problem in the city of Los Angeles, which has the second-highest homeless population in the United States. (Only New York City’s homeless population is greater.)

The panel, funded entirely by the ULI Foundation, provided recommendations specific to Los Angeles but adaptable to other metropolitan areas. The recommendations include short-term actions to expand the availability of temporary shelters and solutions to increase the supply of and access to affordable housing.

The assignment was extremely timely because Los Angeles’s homeless population has continued to soar, jumping 20 percent to more than 34,000 between 2016 and 2017. (Los Angeles County’s homeless population jumped 23 percent to nearly 58,000 during the same time.)

The panel, which received significant support from ULI Los Angeles, was convened at the suggestion of several ULI Los Angeles leaders, and its work was informed by the advice and guidance of the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate. Panelists sought to build on the many efforts already underway in the city to combat homelessness, including the forthcoming deployment of $5 billion in voter-approved bond proceeds dedicated to addressing homelessness over the next several years.

To tackle this challenge, ULI convened a panel of some of the nation’s best minds in housing, architecture, public policy, and housing finance:

  • Leigh Ferguson, ULI Louisiana chair for mission advancement, and economic and development director for the downtown district of New Orleans, panel co-chair;
  • Rafael Cestero, ULI New York Advisory Board member and chief executive officer, the Community Preservation Corporation, New York City, panel co-chair;
  • Philip S. Payne, ULI Key Leader and chief executive officer, Ginkgo Residential, Charlotte, North Carolina;
  • Paola Moya, Women’s Leadership Initiative member and chief executive officer and principal, Marshall Moya Design, Washington, D.C.;
  • Tom Murphy, ULI senior resident fellow and former mayor of Pittsburgh;
  • Stanley Lowe, chief executive officer, Pittsburgh Neighborhood Planning Services;
  • Antoinette D. Hayes-Triplett, chief executive officer, Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, Tampa; and
  • Douglas Apple, president and chief executive officer, DNA Consulting in Brooklyn, New York.

During a five-day visit to Los Angeles in December, these experts addressed a variety of real estate and land use issues at the heart of the metro area’s homelessness problem, focusing not just on the city’s notorious Skid Row area, but also on every district across the city and throughout the region. As is typical of the Advisory Services program, the panelists provided ULI’s expert, objective take on the issue, examining the connection between homelessness and the inadequate supply of affordable housing in L.A.; the potential for urban design to help alleviate homelessness; and stakeholder issues inherent in any efforts to deconcentrate homelessness and disperse homeless housing and facilities more widely throughout the city and county.

“The panel’s work is impressive in terms of its ability to untangle the competing pressures and aid in resolving a vexing social issue from a real estate perspective,” said ULI Americas Chairman Trish Healy, principal at Hyde Street Holdings. “What ULI brought to this panel assignment is the essence of the Urban Land Institute: members with a broad range of industry expertise, an openness to ideas, and an ability to bring together stakeholders with different and perhaps even competing interests.”

With an emphasis on public/private leadership, thoughtful land use, and greater awareness to improve community acceptance and build consensus, the panel developed ambitious but achievable recommendations focused on one main goal as a starting point—reducing the number of unsheltered homeless (people not sleeping in shelters) by 50 percent by the end of 2018.

The recommendations, discussed in the panel’s report, Homelessness, Los Angeles, California: Recommendations for Local Action, include the following:

  • Use existing resources effectively. The city and its partners should intensify efforts to connect the unsheltered homeless with existing shelters and fill unused beds and supportive housing units.
  • Establish 60 community housing centers. These centers should be located on land owned by the city, county, or nonprofit organizations, using vacant or underused properties when possible. Centers should be equally distributed across the city, with four located in each of the 15 council districts.
  • Quickly reclaim and restore public spaces. Land formerly occupied for homeless encampments should be made available for use as park/recreational space by the public.
  • Invest in scattered-site, permanent supportive housing. The focus should be on innovative, cost-effective approaches for combining housing and services, with the aim of providing 500 housing units each year for five years using an approach that incentivizes participation by owners of small to medium-sized properties.
  • Increase the overall housing supply. Supply should range from single-family homes to market-rate condos to supportive housing in order to start reversing the city’s growing housing shortage.
  • Streamline approvals and offer more incentives for housing construction. Emphasis should be placed on affordable housing development.
  • Encourage innovation in housing design and development. Different solutions such as accessory dwelling units should be embraced.
  • Capitalize on the growing acceptance of density near transit. Best practices for well-designed affordable housing of this kind should be highlighted.
  • Reimagine leadership and accountability. Political will should be built for all leaders to work together on solutions that locate temporary and permanent housing in every district.

Before preparing the recommendations, the panelists toured homeless encampments as well as possible sites for temporary and permanent housing; interviewed more than 70 stakeholders representing the public, private, and nonprofit sectors; and conducted a thorough analysis of the severity, scale, and complexity of the problem.

“This is an issue throughout Los Angeles. Essentially, every neighborhood, every business, every local philanthropy, every resident of Los Angeles has a stake in solving the problem,” said panel co-chair Ferguson. “We saw a high level of concern, sensitivity, and caring among all the stakeholders about finding good solutions. It was encouraging that in the midst of all the complications associated with this challenge, everyone was saying, ‘Let’s figure out how to solve this.’”

Wayne Ratkovich, ULI trustee and ULI Los Angeles leader, noted that ULI’s vantage point—one from which the problem was examined from an economic and land use standpoint, as well as a social standpoint—was particularly useful in identifying solutions that might not otherwise be considered.

“Among ULI’s 40,000-plus members, there are people with an enormous amount of experience in all aspects of city building, and ULI was able to draw upon those resources and bring to Los Angeles a group of people willing to share their expertise on an issue that is very important to the city,” said Ratkovich, president of the Ratkovich Company.

“What they prescribed for the city is something we need to listen to very carefully and follow up on. The work of this panel speaks very highly of ULI and the capabilities its membership can bring to any urban challenge.”

Healy noted that the panel was particularly noteworthy, not just because of the complexity of the task, but also because it was funded entirely by the ULI Foundation, reflecting the Institute’s increased emphasis on proactively seeking to help communities address various types of urban challenges.

“Expanding ULI’s successful Advisory Services program to include self-directed panels allows ULI to add another dimension to its advisory work,” she said. “In addition to the sponsors who ask for assistance on pressing issues, ULI, through its philanthropic support, will be able to go into communities that need us the most. It is an exciting development!”

Support for the panel came from more than $500,000 raised at a ULI Foundation gala held at the 2017 ULI Fall Meeting to raise funds for the Advisory Services program and honor one of the Institute’s strongest supporters, ULI Foundation governor Roy March, who helped significantly with the fundraising effort. March, chief executive officer of Eastdil Secured, told those at the gala that he sees in ULI a way to advance his passion for helping society’s most disadvantaged people.

“As a society, we will be judged by the people on the margin, and these people [the homeless] are certainly on the margin,” March said. “Homelessness is one of the greatest unnatural disasters, and it is our responsibility to deal with it.” Exploring immediate and long-term solutions—particularly those related to access to affordable housing—is “perfectly suited” to the advancement of the Institute’s mission, he noted.

ULI Los Angeles chairman Clare De Briere, founder of C+C Ventures, pointed to the broad range of stakeholders involved in the panel process, including advocates for the homeless as well as public officials and the development community.

“They were actively engaged with the process and fully supported it; they were heard, and it was fantastic,” she said.

“As the findings of the panel are shared with the community, there is a coalition of people behind it that ULI is uniquely positioned to bring together.”

Now in its 71st year, the Advisory Services program has convened more than 600 panels assisting communities with a broad range of challenges, ranging from reuse of obsolete industrial facilities to increasing the stock of affordable housing.

“The Advisory Services program is about helping communities become more livable, sustainable, and successful,” said Paul Bernard, executive vice president of the Advisory Services program. “The expansion of this program holds great promise for ULI in terms of its ability to change people’s lives through better communities.”

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