The L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion last week to create an executive committee and leadership table on homelessness — a near-identical structure to one in Houston, Texas.
The executive committee will consist of L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, two appointed members from the Board of Supervisors, an appointed member of the L.A. City Council, four city council members representing each “sector” of L.A. County (North County, San Fernando Valley, Southwest Corridor, San Gabriel Valley and Southeast County) and a representative appointed by the governor of California.
“Forming a regional approach to solving homelessness has been a long time in the making,” read a prepared statement from 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley and co-authored the motion. “We have a lot of different organizations dedicated to helping our homeless but they’re working in silos …. The executive committee and leadership table represent an opportunity for us to rethink our own bureaucracy and drive change.”
The motion’s origin surrounds a trip made to Houston by five L.A. County city managers, leaders of the city of L.A.’s CEO office and leaders from two local nonprofits. There they observed systems they believed could benefit L.A. County — including the need for a regional governance structure.
Los Angeles was one of several cities looking nationally for more effective ways to combat homelessness and looked to Houston specifically for solutions. Houston’s area homeless population dropped 57% between 2012 and 2022 while Los Angeles County’s increased 106% over the same time period. From 2022 to 2023, L.A. County saw a 9% increase in its homeless population while Houston saw an 18% decrease.
“Definitely, there were a lot of lessons (from the Houston trip) learned as a planning entity, because that’s missing right now,” said Helen Chavez, communication director for Barger’s office. “Right now, you’ve got (Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority) but LAHSA has a very constricted focus and they grew quickly, but really they’re a joint powers entity that had a focus on the county (as a whole) and the city of L.A.”
Chavez elaborated by saying that Barger’s opinion was that an issue facing the 88 cities in the county should be addressed by an entity that represents all of them in some way. The hope is that this motion can take their input and work it into a master plan to address the crisis.
Santa Clarita has the oppurtunity to be represented on the executive commitee by providing a representative from the North County sector. Tyler Cash, homelessness deputy for Barger’s office, said a representative from Santa Clarita can make it to the executive board through a yet-to-be determined process.
Differences between Houston and Los Angeles
A recent CalMatters report gave several reasons why Houston, and the state of Texas, have seen better results — some are within the control of the state, county and city levels and some are not.
Cheaper rent and more housing in Texas allows for both easier construction of new housing, such as tiny homes, and a bigger supply of available housing. While this may be impossible to quickly fix in California, the envoy to Houston also noticed that creating a strong executive board and leadership table helped reduce the red tape — particularly when allocating funds to combat homelessness.
This specific structure means local governments can work more seamlessly with county and state governments to allocate federal funding. Los Angeles County’s current method is more fragmented — where several government groups apply separately for funding.
Another aspect was the partnership between public and private funding in the Houston area. Local governments routinely work with a select few nonprofits and other agencies to ensure swift implementation of policies. On this front, L.A. County’s approach is also fragmented among the multitude of governments that lie within its borders.
“Homelessness is a regional crisis,” 1st District Supervisor Hilda Solis wrote in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, our existing homelessness governance structure does not give local cities a voice in how we address this emergency. That is why we need to move forward with the executive committee this motion proposes as it will bring all 88 cities together with the county of Los Angeles to break long-existing silos.”
A lot of the red tape Tuesday’s motion hopes to cut is by having a leadership table that would provide the executive committee with context and information but would just make recommendations.
The table would be made up of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority, department heads, community members with “lived experience,” philanthropic representatives, faith representatives, veteran representatives and many other representatives from relevant groups.
Tuesday’s motion aims to use this table as a way to “lead on public education, hold the system accountable to a common set of performance indicators, seeks to limit interference and overcome obstacles that might disrupt implementation, and align private funding in support of the regional plan.”
At the apex of Houston’s approach is a shared and unified plan from top to bottom and having an executive committee is the ultimate decision-maker in that plan and how it’s implemented.
However, another reason why Houston had so much success in driving down the homeless population was through affordable and permanent housing, as opposed to temporary shelters and other non-permanent options L.A. has been known for since, and before, the pandemic.
In another effort to mimic Houston, L.A. County created the Los Angeles County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency — which held its innagural meeting in May. The agency’s aim is provide emergency rent assitance and construction of affordable homes, although both of these goals are still in their infancy.
According to Chavez and Cash, a direct connection between LACAHSA and the new executive commitee have not been established, but there are vicarious connections — all five county supervisors are on its board and so is Bass. Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs is also on LACAHSA’s board.
Cash said that LACAHSA will be used as a vehicle for policies put forth by the executive committee but that the latter will act in a more broad sense.
“I think a lot of the things that we’ve been able to take away from the Houston model in general … was L.A. County as a region has never been kind of unified or has come together, it’s always been sort of segmented or fractured,” said Cash. “So there’s bodies that have been pushed for on today’s motion in the regional governance committee that really aims to provide that unified perspective.”
Tuesday’s motion passed 4-0 with 2nd District Supervisor Holly Mitchell absent.