Several pallet shelters have been going up around Southern California to aid in housing the homeless, including in Riverside, the San Fernando Valley, and Redondo Beach. Wilmington is the newest addition, with 75 structures expected to be finished sometime this month.
Pallet shelters, while considered temporary housing, have several advantages over more permanent structures. Notably, it only costs $5000 to build a pallet shelter. It may seem inexpensive to convert existing buildings, but the truth is, it’s costly to modify buildings that aren’t meant as residences to accommodate living quarters. Pallet shelters are designed as residences from the get-go, meaning they’re more similar to traditional housing and feel more like a place to live, rather than a place to seek temporary shelter. They also offer more privacy than 100-resident shelters.
The Wilmington project is also designed to instill a sense of community. While the individual shelters are private, the area itself is public and includes communal areas for the residents to interact with each other and friends from outside. Food will be catered to the site. The site will be overseen by The Salvation Army and they will provide case workers and housing counselors.
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The nonprofit company Restore Neighborhoods LA (RNLA) has just built a small homeless housing development in the Vermont Knolls neighborhood of LA. The cost per unit to build was a mere $225,000, less than half of the $500,000 average for homeless housing in LA. With only eight units, it does little to solve homelessness on its own, but RNLA hopes its financing strategy can be used by others to build more affordable housing faster.
How many builders get money is called the “lasagna of financing” — acquiring funding from several sources, including city, county, state, federal, and private sources. Going through this process takes time, as each different source requires a different application and approval process, and things could change between getting approval from one source and being rejected by another. It could also incur additional costs, such as application fees and hiring financial and legal experts. RNLA instead avoided this bureaucracy by opting for mostly single-source financing. They received the entirety of their $920,000 loan from a single private company called Genesis LA, and the rest of their financial support came from LA county grants and crowdfunding.
Unfortunately, it’s not likely that many builders will be able to acquire funding in this way for larger projects. Single sources simply don’t have the money, or don’t want to risk it, for a large project. The lasagna system has the benefit that no single source is incurring much risk, since they are each able to finance a smaller portion of the costs.
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Project Homekey, a cooperative effort between the State of California, LA County, and Long Beach to convert hotels into homeless housing, has reached a new milestone in its progress. One week ago, on March 15th, one of the transitional housing developments finally opened its doors. Previously a Best Western hotel in Long Beach, it’s now a 102 unit development that’s bringing in homeless residents.
Unfortunately, 102 units can’t support the entire homeless population of Long Beach. They’re currently only looking at accepting at-risk residents — those with medical conditions or who are 65 or older. Homeless residents who are in the process of obtaining permanent housing are also able to apply while they wait to obtain their permanent home.
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With the large homeless population and significant number of vacant properties, it’s no surprise that homeless people often squat there. One company has turned that fact into a business. Weekend Warriors, run by Diane Montano, is a security company in Los Angeles and surrounding areas that operates by hiring homeless people to guard vacant homes, rather than simply squatting there. This gives jobs and temporary housing to homeless people while also protecting the property from vandalism or allowing the owner to perform maintenance or remodels undisturbed by squatters.
While it may sound like Weekend Warriors is in favor of helping the homeless, their employees tend to see it as simply a way to survive, not a blessing. They may be grateful for the opportunity, but at its heart the position is designed to help homeowners and corporations avoid squatters. The company works closely with Wedgewood, a real estate company specializing in renovating and flipping homes, particularly in majority Black and Latino neighborhoods, accelerating gentrification by frequently selling the newly remodeled property to more well-off White buyers. Employees are asked not to leave the building or talk to people while working, despite the fact that shifts are between twelve and twenty-four hours, seven days a week at far less than minimum wage. Of course, the employees, some of them ex-convicts and many of whom sympathize with other squatters, don’t tend to abide by these rules.
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California, in partnership with Long Beach and LA County, has begun the process for Project Homekey, a project to convert two hotel properties into homeless properties. One will be a 100 unit project and the other approximately 50 units. While it’s not yet announced which properties have been chosen, the decision has already been made, and these criteria narrow it down significantly. Only one property fits for the 100 unit structure — the Best Western of Long Beach. There are a few different options for the 50 unit project.
The converted units aren’t going to be ready immediately. The properties have not yet been purchased, and the deadline to do so is December 30, so it could be up to two months before the conversion even begins. The contract for funding the conversion process is expected to last several years, though the conversion could already be complete before the contract expires.
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