(Courtesy photo)

This Fall, Duane moved into his own apartment after 15 years of homelessness. He said he feels like he’s living someone else’s dream and takes pride in decorating and settling into his new home. That’s another win from my friends at Harbor Interfaith, a rehousing provider in the South Bay. In San Pedro, a new supportive housing development, Beacon Landing, is under construction, and will welcome 89 people home next year—89 more success stories like Duane.

I’m a Realtor, a past Chair of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, and a former Republican. I see so much of our homeless crisis in terms of cost. Cost to our local businesses, cost to our quality of life, cost to police and fire budgets, and more importantly the cost of the souls we allow to die on our streets every day.

The pathway to homelessness often comes with a one-two punch. Two tragedies in a row that plunge people into an impossible situation. I believe people can recover from extreme loss with a little help.

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For example, LaVerne, who I met in 2019 at the Bridge Home in Watts, became homeless after leaving an abusive marriage, coupled with a death in the family. She was a working nurse living in her car, worried about her safety, unable to mourn, and in constant search for a bathroom and shower. Her struggles became too much and she lost her job. After 9 years on the streets, she found the support she needed to get her own apartment, stabilize, and get her nursing certification back. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she acknowledged the difference housing with services made in her life. She now helps others do the same.

People don’t want to come to communities and see despair. The number one complaint from visitors to California is how many people live in abject poverty. The folks you see experiencing homelessness are your neighbors, friends, and family members. People tend to stay where their roots are. In fact, 80% of people experiencing homelessness have lived here for over five years.

Keeping our neighbors from falling between the cracks is the right thing to do and that starts with housing. When people are housed with supportive services they have a foundation on which to rebuild their lives and heal, and more than 90% stay housed.

The lack of affordable housing in our region makes it harder for our system to keep people off the streets. Tens of thousands of Angelenos are a paycheck, a health crisis, or a family emergency away from homelessness.

The two-thirds of Angelenos are renters, feeling the squeeze of the tightest housing market in decades. On average, renters spend 48% of their income on rent, the highest in the country. LA renters need to make more than $45 per hour, three times LA’s $15 minimum wage to afford average rent for a two-bedroom.

Affordable housing means small businesses, community non-profits, schools, child-care facilities and restaurants can draw workers locally. Affordable housing is essential to reducing traffic. Workers living closer to jobs with shorter commutes can spend more time with their families, feel better connected with their community and have a better quality of life.

Rather than kicking the can down the road or pushing our problem off on another town, the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce has actively championed local solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis.

Since the COVID Summer of 2020, we raised over $800,000 to create the Harbor Neighborhood Relief Fund. The Fund helps bridge the gap between needs and services for our community. Funds are nimble so we can quickly address real life challenges in meaningful ways. When folks get hit with that one-two punch, the fund helps keep them housed.

The Fund helped a mechanic who lost his job as Covid emptied our freeways. He in turn helped someone keep her commuter car working so she didn’t lose her job. Another gave back the $300 she received because she found a new job and wanted the money to go to someone else in need. We also kept restaurants afloat by paying them to feed first responders.

While stop gap measures like the Fund are important, we need more affordable housing everywhere—not just in a few neighborhoods. We need nearly 500,000 affordable homes to meet the existing demand in LA County. When these housing developments are coupled with supportive services, we are getting people off the streets, adding people to the workforce, reducing poverty, addiction, gang violence and giving people a second chance to live meaningful lives that can help others.

News reports that criticize the cost and timeline of affordable and supportive housing aren’t wrong. But despite those hurdles, Proposition HHH is helping us make steady progress. In the city of LA, there are 3420 new affordable homes with folks living in them, 5,446 under construction, and 4,113 more in design. That’s 12,979 homes!

Let’s build on our success. Let’s make it easier to build more Beacon Landings countywide. It’s our best move. Every life changed and community strengthened is worth it. I hope that one day there will be fair housing for all. I want to open up the promise of generational wealth to more people, especially to people of color.

Neighborhood by neighborhood, business and community involvement are breaking down the walls we’ve allowed to go up in LA County. I’ve been proud to be part of making San Pedro and the South Bay more inclusive, and I’m glad to see more communities than ever saying yes to new affordable and supportive housing.

Lee Williams leads The Williams Group real estate team at LAmove and serves on community boards focused on child education, housing and supporting local businesses.