Story at a glance

  • In California, a lack of affordable housing is driving a surging homeless population that has reached 36,000 in the city of Los Angeles.
  • A new analysis reveals that the number of vacant units, more than 41,000, outnumbers the city’s homeless.
  • UPDATE: Since the research's initial publication, its authors have retracted their findings.

UPDATES from the LAist:

Nov. 23, 2:20 p.m.: Joe Delgado, director of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Los Angeles, one of the groups that co-authored the report, confirmed in an email that co-authors had removed the report from the internet.

"It has come to our attention that there is more recent data to draw on the 10 luxury buildings we sampled in LA," Delgado wrote. "We will be coming out with an updated report, so we have taken down the last version of the report until that (sic) then."

1:45 p.m.: The authors of the report appear to have removed it from the internet after LAist presented updated vacancy figures that put into question the report's methodology. A spokesperson did not answer a request for clarification on Saturday. We will update the story with more information when we get it.

This article was originally published on Nov. 22.

In Los Angeles, vacant housing could provide accommodations for the city's entire homeless population of at least 36,000 people, with more than 5,000 units to spare.

Many of those more than 41,000 vacant units are uninhabited because their owners bought them as long-term financial investments, and not because they needed a place to live, LAist reports.

The analysis looked at property ownership records from L.A. County and the commercial real estate information service Co-Star.

Out of 10 high-end apartment buildings in downtown L.A., the researchers found an average vacancy rate of more than 70 percent in April 2019. A modestly sized one bedroom in one of these buildings can easily rent for more than $3,000 a month. 

"When developers put up exclusive luxury buildings that rent for more money a month than the residents currently living in a neighborhood make, they are making a speculative bet on what that neighborhood will look like in the future," the authors wrote.

Earlier this week, the group who put out the report, Strategic Action for a Just Economy, staged a news conference outside one such luxury apartment building where they said 76 percent of units sat unoccupied.

The report also found that 46 percent of 25 condominium buildings were owned by corporations or institutional investors.

The authors recommend instituting a tax on vacant units to help combat the problem. Vancouver, British Columbia, has such a policy, which raised $38 million for the city and reduced vacant housing by 22 percent from 2017 to 2018. 

L.A. city councilmembers motioned to begin work on a vacant homes tax in June. If all goes well, voters may have the opportunity to vote on the tax in 2020. Elsewhere in the state, San Diego is also considering a vacancy tax on homes, San Francisco is mulling one for empty storefronts, and, in 2018, Oakland instituted a tax on vacant land.

Published on Nov 22, 2019