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March 05, 2021 | 1,242 total views

Drawing on 100+ stakeholders and national experts, governance report recommends increased authority, shared goals, and accountability across the systems that drive inflow to homelessness 

LOS ANGELES – Today, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) Commission released the recommendations of its Ad Hoc Committee on Governance. The report lays out a path to a regionally coordinated response to the homelessness and housing crisis that aligns resources and authority and establishes shared goals.

Ann Oliva, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a leading national research and policy institute focused on reducing poverty and inequality, wrote the report. The report reflects the perspectives of lived expertise, philanthropy, government, elected officials, LAHSA Commission members and input from hundreds of stakeholders across the regional homelessness services system over the past year. It recommends actions in three areas of focus:

  1. Strengthen LAHSA’s operational effectiveness given its exponential growth, including improvements to contracting and procurement processes.
  2. Streamline governing bodies of LAHSA to clarify roles and accountability, enhance transparency to elected officials, and incorporate greater involvement of people with lived experience in meaningful ways.
  3. Engage elected officials to create a shared mandate for system change, by establishing bold, collective goals shared by the 88 cities and the County, and a path toward a system-wide structure with the authority and flexibility to implement it. This body would evaluate an evolution of the governance of LAHSA and the rehousing system, potentially toward direct elected official involvement.

Two major factors drove the need for a governance review:

  • LAHSA has evolved into a rehousing system administrator but does not have control over its funding, policies, and programs, and receives direction from  overlapping oversight bodies. LAHSA’s current governance structure relies on both the City and County of Los Angeles, as well as input from the LAHSA Commission, the Continuum of Care Board, the Coordinated Entry System Policy Council, the Regional Homelessness Advisory Council, the Lived Experience Advisory Board, and various workgroups. This complex governance dynamic puts LAHSA in the center of various policies and strategies without decision-making authority.
  • While funding has increased, varying requirements and mandates tied to the funding have created complex challenges for LAHSA and its non-profit providers to navigate. Each funding source comes with its own set of rules and limitations, creating a complicated web of contract requirements and eligible activities, and slows down LAHSA’s ability to execute contracts, payments, and procurements. While LAHSA implements its strategic plan and operational improvements to streamline internal processes, its governance structure needs to change to allow aligned solutions that cut red tape.

The report identifies the major components driving the housing and homelessness crisis: addressing the group of systems that drive inflow to homelessness, such as the economic drivers of wages and housing prices, criminal justice, and mental health; helping people experiencing homelessness return to housing, which is LAHSA’s central mission; and locating, operating and construction sufficient affordable housing for them to return to. If implemented, the key recommendations will allow LAHSA to more effectively administer that rehousing system regionally, while clarifying authority and roles for the other two components.

“Homelessness reflects a systemic failure to help people when they need it most. We can and must do better,” said Oliva. “We must work in alignment across jurisdictions, which is challenging in a large, decentralized area like Los Angeles. This report recommends putting city and county elected officials at the same table to foster better coordination, and hopefully improve services for people experiencing homelessness across the region.”

“A complex system makes it hard to save lives and disproportionately affects people of color, and we must change that,” said Wendy Greuel, LAHSA Commission chair. “This report helps cut through the complexity by distinguishing between operations and governance. LAHSA can make operations more effective by implementing the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Report on Black People Experiencing Homelessness, eliminating redundant workgroups, and improving contracting and outreach. When it comes to governance, we need a regional vision that also addresses the systems that push people into homelessness and produces affordable housing region-wide.”

“Governance reforms could clear hurdles to house thousands of people faster,” said Sarah Dusseault, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance. “We need to transform our system to look more like our early COVID response, when we sheltered thousands of Angelenos in a number of weeks. It’s time to update the Joint Powers Agreement to reflect the current reality. Clear lines of responsibility, more involvement of people with lived experience and partnership across jurisdictions work fast and work well.”

“Ending homelessness involves answering three hard questions,” said Heidi Marston, executive director of LAHSA. “Why are people losing housing? How do we support them in getting back into permanent housing? And how do we build enough housing to meet the need? LAHSA’s ongoing transformation lets us address the rehousing question faster and more effectively every day. While we dig into that, we need a system-wide vision with flexibility and authority, shared by 88 cities and the County at-large, that can stop upstream systems from driving people into homelessness while it locates, builds and operates the affordable housing that people can call home.”

At a special commission meeting on February 12, members summed up the current systemic challenges and the potential solution by contrasting two stories emblematic of what’s working and what’s broken in the current system.

The Problem: LA’s current approach to rehousing an individual illustrates the systemic obstacles that arise when the organizations and departments involved in rehousing do not have centralized accountability.

The Solution: The early response to COVID that established Project Roomkey is a model of the path forward. When COVID-19 first hit, the City and County came together quickly and executed a plan that resulted in bringing over 8,000 people—20% of the unsheltered population—inside and safe from the virus within a few months. The work was possible under an agreement that created a temporary executive-level task force with a shared, allocated sufficient resources, and put LAHSA in the lead. In spite of the region’s decentralized governance structures, this model drew clear lines of authority and recognized LAHSA’s expertise to improve operational effectiveness of the rehousing system.

As context for this report, it's important to consider that LAHSA's work—the rehousing system that supports people out of homelessness—is distinct from the mainstream systems pushing people into homelessness, and the systems that oversee housing production. Los Angeles has invested deeply in rehousing, and as a result has doubled the number of people exiting homelessness annually compared to the years before those investments. LAHSA’s ongoing operational transformation continues to speed up that work, and this governance report identifies obstacles to further improvements.

Governance changes in rehousing will not solve inflow. Fixing LA’s homelessness crisis requires reform of the mainstream safety net systems to stop people from falling into homelessness faster than they can be rehoused and increasing the quantity and variety of LA’s affordable housing supply.

For more details on the recommendations, read the report’s executive summary and cover memo from the authors.

Related

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