LA City Council Puts Controversial Homeless Hotel Measure on March Ballot

Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP

Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP

In a move that has hospitality industry leaders expressing concerns about safety and a negative effect on tourism, on August 5, 2022, the Los Angeles City Council considered a proposal that would force hotels to rent vacant rooms to homeless people in exchange for government vouchers.

The ordinance was proposed by UNITE HERE Local 11, a labor union representing workers employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas, and convention centers.  The ordinance began as an initiative petition and was secured by enough signatures to require the Council to vote on the measure.  The ordinance initiative petition process allows proponents to submit a petition requesting adoption of an ordinance by the City Council.  If the Council does not adopt the ordinance, it must be submitted to the voters of the City.

According to the City’s news release:

The proposed ordinance would require a hotel development project of 100 or more rooms to obtain a land use permit based on factors including the market demand for the project, and the project’s impact on affordable housing, transit, social services, employees, and local businesses. A hotel development project of 15 or more rooms would be required to replace demolished or converted housing with an equivalent amount of affordable housing at or near the project site.

The ordinance would create a program, subject to funding availability, to place unhoused individuals in vacant hotel rooms. A hotel would be prohibited from refusing lodging to program participants. The ordinance would establish special police permit requirements for hotels. A hotel would need to meet specified standards, including compliance with wage theft and employment laws, to obtain a permit and avoid disciplinary action.

The ordinance would require each hotel to communicate with the City of Los Angeles Housing Department (the “Department”) every day to provide the number of vacant rooms.  The Department could then assign unhoused people to that hotel, those people would pay for rooms using a city voucher, and the City would pay a “fair market rate” to the hotel. The ordinance would make it unlawful for hotels to refused homeless guests using the voucher for lodging.

Because the ordinance initiative petition obtained the requisite number of signatures, the Council could have either voted to adopt the proposed initiative ordinance or to submit the ordinance for a public vote in the March 5, 2024 election. The Council voted 11-1 to put the ordinance on the March ballot rather than adopting it.  The ordinance will require a majority vote to pass.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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