Opinion: AHF Converts Cheap Hotels to Homeless Housing. What About It West Hollywood?

homeless housing
AHF President Michael Weinstein unveils an image of its new billboard at the opening Wednesday of the Madison Hotel for the homeless on Skid Row.

I have spent the better part of 25 years advocating for affordable housing. Way back when, before I started my campaign, I had developed an addiction to cocaine, my way of dealing with the emotional and physical pain of losing my first lover and countless friends on the East Coast and in Northern California. I went from one of the nicest places I have ever lived in Santa Monica to living on the streets for three months.

Initially, since I still had money to burn through and a car, life didn’t seem so bad. It got worse, much worse. This was in the 80’s, and there were several communities in the beach area that offered what seemed to be a comfortable life on the streets. It was almost like reading a travel brochure: “Come to sunny California, where sleeping outside under the stars is legal, the warm sea breezes blow, and the price is low. No more bundling up on the subway grates, and the city provides warm showers, clean clothes, and drugs are right at your doorstep.”

The Madison Hotel on 7th Street in L.A.’s Skid Row

I was lost and scared and too embarrassed to ask for help. I learned that fear and shame are the two things that no one wanted to think about, and the longer one stayed on the streets, the less anyone wanted to hear about an alternative. How I didn’t end up in jail, I don’t know. Jail was just something that happened to everyone else, and it wasn’t a big deal to them. That didn’t work for me thank God – so I did the impossible and called for help.

It’s not like that today, L.A.’s 50-square-block Skid Row is a disaster bearing the edifices of various attempts to start to solve a homeless problem that is totally out of control. Over 25,000 people sleep, butt-to-elbow, in and out of the tents that line the sidewalks on too many of these blocks. Despite initiatives by L.A. County’s Housing and Health program, headquartered in the Star Housing building on 5th Street and the Weingarten Center, all anyone is doing is planning and having meetings and planning some more. L.A. Mayor Garcetti has announced money here and initiatives there, but nothing is really attacking this issue at a meaningful scale.

Enter AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the provider that everyone loves to hate, with it Healthy Housing Foundation. In short order, and with no government funding, AHF bought and has begun to renovate the 222-room Madison Hotel on 7th Street, and I attended an event on Wednesday celebrating that. Now, make no mistake, I have had my issues with AHF from time to time, and I tend to cast a suspicious eye on everything it does in L.A., but I have to hand it to them. AHF took action, something we need a lot more of.

According to its figures, while the City of Los Angeles is claiming that affordable housing costs over $400,000 a unit to develop, the per-unit cost at the Madison, including the building purchase price, was $37,000. Granted, these are single-room units (SROs), and while they are nothing fancy, they have new beds, they have been newly painted, and the building, still under renovation, is being brought up to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance codes. These beds are for anyone needing a safe, clean home, regardless of where he or she is in Los Angeles. As of the grand opening on Wednesday there were 50 rooms ready for occupancy.

Along with this property, AHF has purchased the 27-room Sunset 8 motel on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I can state, based on personal experience, that this was part of the circuit of “crack hotels” in Hollywood. It is farther along in its modernization than the Madison. These are larger units, and this was a total gut and rebuild. The motel was redone for approximately $130,000 per unit, still way lower than the city’s estimate of over $400,000 to build a unit to house the homeless. AHF also is developing a larger building from the ground up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

At the Madison’s opening ceremony on Wednesday, I spoke with Samantha Granberry, the executive director of the AHF’s Healthy Housing Foundation. What a dynamo! Her positive “can do” attitude was infectious, and her openness to suggestions and comments was encouraging. Everyone I met on Wednesday who is involved in this project shared her qualities. If this is emblematic of the caliber and drive of those who are running the show, I think that it is time we start forming partnerships and thinking about getting people off the streets regardless of historic disagreements and legacy battles and welcome a new provider that has the critical mass and resources to get things done.

Let’s get real here, L.A.’s homeless problem (and that of West Hollywood) is getting worse, not better. The distinction of having more people on our streets and beaches than any other city in America is not one to be proud of. Sure, it is important that every stakeholder’s needs are met, but we need to start somewhere. I know how important an address is to development of the self-esteem required to start the process of recovery from homelessness. While facilities like the Madison do not solve the homeless problem by themselves, they are a crucial first step to getting people that essential “step-up.” They show everyone on the streets that there are safe, clean places and people who care about helping them, right around the corner.

Personally, I do not want to get involved in the politics, as my history has been, and will always be ,to speak my mind and follow my own conscience. There was that air of “tit for tat” when AHF’s Michael Weinstein revealed its new “Homeless” billboard campaign (a take on the “Hollywood” sign.”) That is simply not my business. But what is my business, and what I have been advocating for, is a viable alternative to living on the streets as I watch those who are most vulnerable in America end up infected with HIV and Hep C and have their lives changed for the worse.

What about it West Hollywood? Don’t we have a couple of cheap motels that could be put to better use?


newest oldest
Notify of
Josh Kurpies
Guest
Josh Kurpies

While I support AHF’s purchase and rehab of these run down motels and I don’t want to discredit their initiative in doing so considering they are fairly new to the field of housing development, but this concept of buying motels and converting to transitional housing is not new. Step Up on Second has done several projects over the years, in fact I attended the opening of one just up on Sunset Blvd down the street from Ralph’s about 2 years ago. Both the City and County of Los Angeles have spent the last year identifying motel sites for possible purchase… Read more »

Homeless ?
Guest
Homeless ?

The City OWNS the property at the southwest corner of Santa Monica and Crescent Heights. Some residents objected to the two single family homes (next to Gelson’s) being demolished. They suggested that the City purchase that property and make it all low income apartments. John Heilman, at that time and prior to the land purchase previously stated, said that if the City owned THAT land, it would be all low income apartments. Well, of course, we’re getting the all too often very expensive condos whose north facing residents will have a spectacular view of the Gelson’s parking lot. But I… Read more »

PJt
Guest
PJt

This place is 1.9 square miles. That’s it folks. So you give them a home so they can panhandle in the neighborhood. Yeah, this solves anything? And yes, I was homeless at one time. I got therapy that I needed. And eventually lived in an area more reasonably priced until I got better established and moved to weho. Sorry, we all can’t live here. Many places I’d like to live outside of weho and I can’t afford it so it’s out of the question. That’s life folks. Deal with it…supply and demand. Can’t afford to live here, move. That’s what… Read more »

RobbyDobbyWeHo
Guest
RobbyDobbyWeHo

Sometimes there are overriding factors which make moving elsewhere impractical or even impossible. Step outside of your own cloistered perspective and try to see the world the way it really is rather than the way you want it to be…

dumb and dumber
Guest
dumb and dumber

The most important thing is finding low cost properies for conversion, resulting in the biggest bang for the buck. For the price of one abandoned West Hollywood building, pre-rehab, 2-3 buildings could be purchased elsewhere.

To waste precious funds on high-cost properties, just so West Hollywood could feel good about itself, is foolish and ironically, smacks of entitlement.

J Simmons
Guest
J Simmons

The City will NEVER go for it. The City is pushing for more hotels for the hotel tax. Also wants anybody renting out their apt/condo/home via Air B&B (or other means?). So don’t see it EVER happening inside WeHo City limits.

Joshua88
Guest
Joshua88

Thank you for your two cents.

Craig
Guest
Craig

With all respect to the homeless and your plan, West Hollywood real estate is not cheap!
The carwash on La Cienega sold for $21.25 million just for the lot.
It would be cheaper to buy land and build in the desert then give them helicopter rides out there.
I appreciate your desire to solve a problem, but they need to go where it’s affordable.

Greg Mahan
Guest
Greg Mahan

This is Great News! There is Finally ACTION!! In one of the previous comments it was pointed out that property/ land is expensive in West Hollywood. True. It is ASLO TRUE that there are Very Wealthy Philanthropic/Altruistic Character WH could be persuaded to Invest some of their Millions in Projects That would solve one of The Greatest Most Embarrassing Societal Failure … Our Inability To CARE ABOUT & FOR THE HOMELESS! Contributing to A Non-Profit HAS POSITIVE TAX CONSEQUENCES FOR THE DONOR! Los Angeles COUNTY/CITIES WASTES MORE MONEY ON FRIVOLOUS & UNNECESSARY PROJECTS & PROGRAMS THAN ANYWHERE I’VE EVER SEEN… Read more »

James Duke Mason
Guest

Bravo to Jim Chud for this awesome article. As great as the service providers like Ascenia and PATH that we have been relying on are, clearly our strategy at tackling this problem has been insufficient. I wrote an article for this website months ago stating that this city needs to take a look at building our own transitional and permanent housing for the homeless. Identifying the right properties is of course the first challenge to look at, but Jim’s article and Michael Weinstein’s work so far definitely gives us some good ideas to start.

erik
Guest
erik

More Great News! For the first time in a long time, I agree with Michael Weinstein. This housing idea for the homeless is a good thing. We can’t just keep moving them down the road. There are a few places in WEHO they could take over and use to help the homeless. When I first came to town 25 years ago, I lived at the Holloway for six weeks while I looked for an apartment. I recently went there to look at the rooms. Looks like they haven’t made any improvements. This would be a great place to convert to… Read more »

Todd Bianco
Guest

While I think it’s a great idea what AHF is doing, it is buying rundown, distressed properties in zip codes that allow a more affordable price. For once, I’m not upset about something Michael Weinstein is doing. It’s an idea that should have been implemented a long time ago.

But buying a run-down hotel property in West Hollywood’s boundaries is a different thing. It would be far more expensive because of land value. If there are candidates out there, I’m betting a developer has already eyed it and made an offer. Any viable suggestions should be considered by the City.

David Reid
Guest

Spot on. But in the legal limits of this 1.9 square mile town I can’t name a run down motel, on the scale of the ones AHF has purchased.
The homeless come here for the same reason so many people stay.
Would you rather be on the streets of Boston or Chicago or here?

RobbyDobbyWeHo
Guest
RobbyDobbyWeHo

I can think of several properties which fit the bill right now. Rundown motel properties still exist inside the boarders of our city…