The Los Angeles City Council today approved a motion that would expand Project Roomkey and explore commandeering non- cooperating hotels and motels to house homeless people through the program.The vote was 14-0, with one member absent.
The Los Angeles Business Council, which represents 500 businesses and civic leaders, voiced its support for the motion in a statement Tuesday, thanking City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Paul Krekorian “for demonstrating the leadership that is needed to bring people indoors and provide the relief they so desperately need.
“The motion before the City Council … on Project Roomkey sets an important goal of 10,000 rooms for a period of six months to get thousands of unsheltered Angelenos off the streets,” the statement reads. “We support the motion’s call for the city to formally request that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide $150 million upfront to ensure we can move quickly and aggressively while COVID-19 rages on.”
On top of seeking $150 million as an advance for the program’s expansion, the motion instructs the city attorney to report on whether commandeering hotels would endanger the availability of 100% FEMA reimbursement.
The City Council also on a 14-0 vote, approved a motion to have the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the city administrative officer report on opportunities to renew and expand Project Roomkey. The city attorney was directed to report back to the council on steps that need to be taken to begin commandeering hotels and motels for homeless housing.
In February, City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a report to the council that Mayor Eric Garcetti has the authority to commandeer hotel rooms to house the homeless and protect people’s lives during a local emergency like the COVID- 19 pandemic.
Los Angeles already houses people in hotel rooms through the Project Roomkey program, but hotels have to opt in and are not forced to participate. On Feb. 20, Garcetti authorized upfront funding to extend Los Angeles’ leases for Project Roomkey hotels through Sept. 30, but at that time the city reported only leasing three hotels with a total of about 1,200 rooms.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the city has not requested reimbursement for portions of the $59 million it has spent on Project Roomkey. During a Budget and Finance Committee meeting last week, City Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn said the billing department needs assistance to apply for reimbursements. The city previously had one staff member working on reimbursement applications, but now has three, The Times reported.
Patty Huber, assistant city administrative officer, told The Times that city officials plan to soon request about $14.5 million in reimbursement for Project Roomkey costs.
Los Angeles County officials have requested about $80 million for hotel rooms, and about $40 million was given upfront through an expedited program that allows municipalities to receive half the funding in advance, according to The Times.
The county has so far received about $12.4 million in reimbursements for Project Roomkey costs, The Times reported. In total, the county received about $119 million in reimbursements from FEMA out of $400 million requested for its broader pandemic response.