Housing Is A Human Right Investigation Uncovers Shocking Facts About LA’s Vacant SROs
As part of its “Save Our SROs” advocacy campaign, Housing Is A Human Right has found more than 4,600 housing units in the Downtown Los Angeles area that are sitting vacant or are waiting to be built or have been converted from low-income housing to other uses. Ninety-one units at two single-room occupancy hotels have been demolished. With nearly 1,500 homeless residents dying on the streets in the L.A. area between 2020 and 2021, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti must immediately utilize any vacant buildings that can provide low-income and homeless housing.
In August, Housing Is A Human Right launched a time-intensive investigation into the number of vacant units at single-room occupancy hotels (SROs) in Downtown L.A. and Westlake, a neighborhood next to Downtown. At the same time, Housing Is A Human Right, the housing advocacy division of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, took out prominent ads in the Los Angeles Times, highlighting such vacant SROs as the Cecil Hotel, the Clark Hotel, and the Embassy Hotel.
Housing Is A Human Right investigated 52 buildings in Downtown and Westlake, visiting many of them in person to confirm their status as vacant or converted for other uses such as market-rate housing. The results are shocking:
- 3,868 SRO units in 25 buildings are sitting vacant or have been converted for other uses. Ninety-one SRO units in two buildings have been demolished. (Three of those 25 buildings were vacant when AIDS Healthcare Foundation recently bought them to use for low-income and homeless housing — a real-life example of how vacant SROs can be utilized.)
- In addition, Chetrit Group, a controversial New York-based developer who owns the vacant Clark and Embassy hotels, has entitlements to build 537 housing units at a 42-story skyscraper known as 611 Place in Downtown L.A. The building, though, has remained empty for years.
- Also in Downtown, The Standard Hotel, with 207 rooms, has been vacant for nearly a year. With L.A.’s homelessness crisis turning into a lethal humanitarian catastrophe, L.A. City Hall can take emergency measures to use 611 Place and The Standard Hotel for low-income and homeless housing.
Housing Is A Human Right’s probe also found that many of L.A.’s largest SROs are vacant — buildings that can be used right now to house low-income and homeless residents. They include the Clark Hotel (500 units), Cecil Hotel (615 units), Embassy Hotel (330 units), Morrison Hotel (111 units), and Holland Hotel (75 units). The list of vacant or demolished or converted units can be found here.
“It’s outrageous that L.A.’s SROs sit vacant while unhoused residents are literally dying on the streets,” says Susie Shannon, policy director of Housing Is A Human Right. “This is a public health emergency that demands swift, bold action. We urge the L.A. City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to utilize the adaptive reuse of vacant buildings and quickly turn them into low-income and homeless housing. People’s lives hang in the balance.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation has already taken this kind of decisive action. Since 2018, AHF has bought 13 hotels or motels in the L.A. area, renovated them, and created more than 1,400 units of low-income and homeless housing. AHF plans to build thousands more units in the coming years. Healthy Housing Foundation, the housing provider division of AHF, manages the properties.
AHF’s adaptive reuse of existing hotels or motels has been cost-effective and timely — unlike the city of L.A.’s efforts. Through a bond measure program, L.A. City Hall shells out a whopping $600,000 per unit for new affordable and homeless housing, and it’s taken years to build.
AHF, on the other hand, has spent between $36,000 to $170,000 per unit by buying SROs, renovating them, and turning them into low-income and homeless housing — and these projects are completed in months, not years.
By spending less money and time, more low-income and homeless housing can be built more quickly, which means more people are housed more urgently. Adaptive reuse, in other words, will save lives.
Patrick Range McDonald, the author of this article, is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.