City Council Sends Initiative to Ballot That Would Require Hotels to House Homeless in Empty Rooms

LA City Council unanimously approves measure for November ballot

By Dolores Quintana

Los Angeles City Council last week voted to place a measure on the November ballot that would require hotels to house homeless people in vacant rooms. 

On Friday, The Los Angeles City Council voted to send the initiative authored by Unite Here Local 11 to the ballot on March 25, 2024. The City Council did have the choice to enact the ordinance immediately, but in a unanimous vote of 12, chose to let the voters decide.  This initiative, called The Responsible Hotel Ordinance, would require that hotels report their empty rooms to the city so that vouchers could be issued to the unhoused giving them places to stay now that Project Roomkey is ending in hotel’s empty rooms. Another provision in the initiative is to require that the city review conditional use permits that hotel developers apply for the need for the hotel and whether it would unduly affect affordable housing needs in the city. 

The language of the ordinance stipulates that “they [the city] consider whether there is sufficient demand for the hotel, whether the hotel would unduly burden the demand for affordable housing and social services in the City, including as a result of the hotel’s employment practices; whether the hotel has a plan to reduce vehicle trips and vehicle miles, including by hiring local residents; and whether the hotel will displace community-serving small businesses. The Ordinance also requires new hotels that displace housing to create guest rooms for City visitors replace that housing on a one-for-one basis.”

During the City Council meeting’s public comment, Katie Green, a general manager of a hotel near LAX said, “One question would be, where are we going to put the distressed passengers who are coming into our city if we are housing the homeless? That’s going to be a real issue. This is a complex ordinance that, among other things, would make sweeping changes to hotel development, permitting and operation protocols here in Los Angeles. These changes will impact the long term future of the tourism industry and the city as a whole on many different fronts. Given the broad scope of this ordinance and the unique concept that it encompasses, we believe that it is critical that all Angelenos be given the opportunity to have input on this decision. 

Michelle Steiner, who said she was representing a hotel in the matter, said, “I have been a GM [General Manager] in a hotel that was housing homeless and it directly has a negative affect to our reputation. Guests stop coming. I would really like to know why hotels are being targeted specifically versus other industries with the right to recall, the ordinance regarding house keepers and the square footage cleaning and now this. If this were to pass, hotels can’t operate as a profitable business in the city of LA and you will move the businesses out.”

Kurt Petersen, Co-President of UNITE HERE Local 11, said, via emailed statement, “LA needs more affordable homes, not more luxury hotels. Like all Angelenos, the number one concern of professional hospitality workers is the cost of housing.  Every day room attendants at DTLA hotels have no choice but to move out of LA because luxury developers are demolishing the affordable housing stock.  Our ordinance would force decision makers to  prioritize housing over luxury developments. The Responsible Hotel Ordinance provides a common sense solution.”

Karla Andara, former downtown Los Angeles housekeeper said, via statement from Unite Here Local 11, “Housing has been an issue for me and as a mom it is becoming an issue for my children. I have struggled living out of my car, because of the high rents and lack of affordable housing. I live with the daily stress of losing my current home, but initiatives like this one give me hope.”

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