Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman Ask City Council to Dedicate FEMA Reimbursement to House People in Vacant Hotel, Motel Rooms


LOS ANGELES (January 26, 2021) – The city should jump at the chance to use new federal funding to get thousands of unhoused Angelenos off the streets quickly, Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman proposed today.

In a motion submitted at this morning’s council meeting, Bonin and Raman called for the City of Los Angeles to expand the Project Roomkey program, which shelters unhoused residents in hotel and motel rooms. The Biden administration announced last week that 100% of city expenses for such programs would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“This is a tremendous opportunity to get tens of thousands of people off the streets quickly,” said Bonin. “Compared to other solutions, using hotels and motels is quick and easy. We can put Project Roomkey on steroids and make a major dent in homelessness at no cost to Los Angeles. It is imperative we seize this moment.”

“During the pandemic, our city’s unhoused population has been uniquely vulnerable, forced to choose between exposure to a dangerously cold and wet winter and the elevated risk of outbreaks in congregate shelters,” Raman said. “LA must seize this lifeline from the federal government and make every effort to offer rooms to as many of our unhoused residents as possible.”

Project Roomkey launched in March 2020 as an effort to secure vacant hotel and motel rooms as shelter for unhoused people who could not shelter in place during the pandemic. The program, which housed 6,150 people, was reimbursed by FEMA at 75%, leaving significant costs to cities. The Biden administration announced last week that it would now reimburse 100% of such through September, and would expedite and advance funding.

The City of Los Angeles has also been implementing a sister program, Project Homekey, which purchases hotels for use as long-term homeless housing. The City has purchased 18 hotels and motels, and the Biden administration is seeking more funds for cities to acquire hotels and motels.

Today’s motion, which was seconded by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, asks city officials to quickly determine how to expand and improve Project Roomkey. It urges the use of not just large hotels and motels, but also those with fewer than 100 rooms. The motion also urges the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to consult with unhoused people on ways to improve the program.

The increased Federal assistance comes at a crucial time in the pandemic in Los Angeles. In recent weeks, COVID infection rates among Los Angeles’ unhoused population have soared, tracking with the increase in the general population. After averaging about 60 new cases each week through the fall, infections among the unhoused doubled in the week after Thanksgiving and have since continued to climb. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health showed 5,717 total cases among people experiencing homelessness as of January 18, 2021.

The motion also directs the City Attorney to report on how the city could use executive power to commandeer and justly compensate hotels and motels, if needed. Legal analysis by constitutional scholar Erwin Chemirinsky, by the firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, and by the City Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco have affirmed the legal authority of cities to take such actions during this public health emergency.

The motion was referred to the Ad hoc Committee on COVID Relief.

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