After reopening for homeless Los Angeles last year, the infamous Hotel Cecil remains virtually empty
Late last year, an infamous hotel in downtown Los Angeles reopened with a new mission: housing the homeless.
Perhaps best known as the site of mysterious deaths featured in countless pulpy true-crime documentaries, Hotel Cecil on Main Street has slowly transformed into a once uninhabited place that Angelenos can call home.
But more than seven months after it officially reopened, owners of Hotel Cecil say getting tenants into the building has been more difficult than expected.
“No one is more frustrated than us or our lenders and investment partners,” said New York-based developer Matthew Baron. “We would like the whole building to be filled tomorrow.”
About 73 apartments in the 600-unit building are now occupied. Almost every tenant is a homeless former Angeleno who relies on a subsidized housing voucher to get out of homelessness. But the rental process has been slow and the building remains mostly empty.
The AIDS Health Foundationan organization that often waded into housing politics in Los Angelesrecently placed defiant full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times demanding that City Hall “fill the Cecil now.”
“If Matt Baron feels he doesn’t know how to fill a building where there is the highest concentration of homelessness in the country, then maybe someone else should take over that building” , said Susie Shannon, director of policy for Housing Is A. Human Right, a division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Baron said some of the units are unoccupied as they are still being renovated. But he said other issues have kept tenants from entering the Cecil.
For example, it took months for the City of Los Angeles Housing Authority to increase the voucher rate for the building’s small one-room apartments.
The city originally offered rent subsidies no more than $971 per month, well below the city’s maximum payment standard of $1,245 for single occupancy apartments. Eventually, the city agreed to subsidize rents of $1,245 per month, a level that Baron says is acceptable to Cecil investors.
Baron also said the Cecil was not getting as many tenant referrals from local government agencies and nonprofits as they had hoped.
A few dozen tenants moved in with Federal Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs), which LA has had trouble using (the city’s 6% voucher redemption rate is one of the lowest in California). Baron said the Cecil, which is run by the Skid Row Housing Trust, is open to accepting more voucher holders.
The Cecil is an unusual affordable housing project, relying entirely on private capital, while most of the housing in Los Angeles built for homeless people relies on public funding. Baron said this pattern proved difficult to execute.
“In a private equity deal, our job, quite frankly, is to acquire the asset, build or renovate it, and get it ready for people to live in. We did it,” Baron said. “Now we need the public side to step in and help us fill it.”
Earlier this month, LA City Council members Kevin De León and Bob Blumenfield presented a proposal that would have the city “main lease” the entire building with the aim of moving tenants in more quickly.
part of their movement reads: “Given the dire need to address homelessness in the city, including in Skid Row, the city should assess and define a potential program with Hotel Cecil to create temporary housing for homeless.”
By directly renting all the units, the city — or an agency like the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) working in concert with the city – could get homeless Angelenos into housing more quickly, avoiding generalization landlord discrimination which prevents LA voucher holders from finding apartments.
Principal tenancy could also benefit the landlord of the building, as the landlord would have the ease of dealing with a single government tenant rather than 600 individual tenants.
Baron said that according to the details, he is in favor of the idea of renting the Cecil. It is unclear when the city council’s proposal will be put to a vote.
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