LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles CIty Council will let voters decide in 2024 whether hotels should be required to offer vacant rooms to the homeless after a union representing hospitality workers presented an ordinance on the matter to the voting body.
The citizen-initiated petition, filed in June, collected over 126,000 signatures and was submitted to the council. The council voted unanimously Friday to place the ordinance on the March 2024 ballot rather than adopt it immediately. The petition arrives as Project Roomkey, a program created in response to the pandemic which provided shelters for more than 10,000 homeless individuals over the last two years, is being phased out.
The ordinance will require a majority vote to pass. If it becomes law, the city’s Housing Department would pay hotels a fair market rate to lodge each person after identifying hotels with vacant rooms. It would require hotels to report the number of vacant rooms to the city and prohibit them from refusing lodging to unhoused people seeking housing through the program.
Maria Hernandez, communications director of UNITE HERE Local 11 — a union representing over 32,000 workers at hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas and convention centers in Southern California — said union members walked through the streets to help collect signatures.
“We think this is a common sense issue, and housing is an issue that affects so many of our members every day,” Hernandez told City News Service. “Unfortunately, that’s not talked about enough, especially folks who are either on the brink of homelessness or having to live in homes with multiple people at a time.”
This decision comes on the heels of the council approving another union led ordinance requiring hotels to perform daily housekeeping of rooms despite the recent restrictions placed on water usage.
Hotel owners opposing the measure packed the council chambers Friday, arguing that the proposal would decimate the local hotel industry by scaring away both staff and visitors.
Heather Rozman, executive director of the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, told the council that hotel staff are not public safety providers and “should not be forced to clean up behind the city’s humanitarian crisis.”
“The hotel industry is here today because their livelihoods, their family-owned businesses and in some cases their homes are at stake,” Rozman said. “Families and business travelers coming to Los Angeles want to know they’ll have affordable and safe accommodations when they arrive.”
Rozman added that she feared insurance companies would increase premiums if the measure passes. She said that some organizers of large conferences are already contemplating pulling events from Los Angeles.
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, told the council: “Hotels did not cause the homeless problem. Hotels are not the solution for the homeless problem.”
Councilman Joe Buscaino called the initiative an “ill-conceived idea that does not solve homelessness” and instead hurts tourism. He urged voters to defeat the measure.
“Placing paying hotel guests next to an unhoused person shows a complete misunderstanding of the causes of homelessness, which often stem from mental illness and drug abuse,” Buscaino said in a statement.
In addition to adopting the ordinance as written, the council could have also called a special election later this year that would have cost approximately $12 million. There is expected to be minimal cost to place it on the ballot in 2024.
City News Service contributed to this report.