Ray Patel isn’t too happy about the Los Angeles City Council’s decision to put a measure before voters that would require the city’s hotels to provide unsold rooms to the homeless.
As the owner of the Welcome Inn in Eagle Rock, he hopes voters will pass the measure.
“Whatever the intent was, we don’t think it’s going to provide a solution for the homeless community,” said Patel, who is president of the Northeast Los Angeles Hotel Owners Association.
The Los Angeles Responsible Hotel Ordinance will go before voters in the March 5, 2024 primary election.
While Mark Davis, CEO of Sun Hill Properties Inc., owner of the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City hotel, was pleased with the council’s action, he said his biggest concern if the measure passes is the health and safety of guests and employees, as the hotel and its staff have no control over who gets a room and no way to understand the hygiene issues they may bring.
“While our hearts go out to them, we don’t think that’s the solution,” Davis said.
Peter Hillen, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Hotel Association, was also pleased with the council’s decision to put the proposal before voters.
The association empathizes with the plight of the homeless and has supported a number of solutions, Hillen said
“However, this is something we feel needs more attention and the council has also come to that conclusion,” Heelan added.
The council could have passed the proposed ordinance directly, but instead voted 12-0 on Aug. 5 to send the measure to the ballot. The initiative is backed by Unite Here Local 11, the hospitality workers union, which collected enough signatures to put it before voters. Association members would consider campaigning against the measure if it came to that, Hillen said.
The action was the exact opposite of what the council did in June when it passed the Hospitality Worker Safety, Workload, Wage and Retention Ordinance, which Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law on July 7.
Like the current ballot measure, the workplace safety initiative was backed by Unite Here, which had collected enough signatures to put it before voters.
In this case, however, the council decided to adopt the ordinance directly. The ordinance provides protection for the safety of employees in the hotel industry and raises the minimum wage at additional hotels in the city.
The latest ordinance, if approved by voters, would require hotels to accept vouchers from an unsheltered person for an unused room stay of up to a few nights.
“Vacant hotel rooms offer an underutilized opportunity to address homelessness,” the proposed law states. “This ordinance establishes a program under which the city’s housing department will identify hotels with available rooms, direct unhoused families and individuals to such hotels, and ensure payment of a fair market rate for their accommodation.”
The big concern for Patel is about the language of the initiative.
“Because of this, we don’t know who will be held responsible if someone is injured. We do not know who is responsible for any damage to the room,” he added. It is also not known if the voucher is for one night or multiple nights or an extended stay, Patel continued.
Also, unlike Project Roomkey, the federally funded program that prompted hotel owners to voluntarily provide rooms for the homeless to stay in while they waited for permanent housing, the initiative does not provide guidance on the social services that can be offered to the homeless, such as mental health or addiction help.
At Universal Hilton, the hotel is 98 percent occupied year-round, so its participation in the program will likely be small to begin with, Davis said.
However, if passed, the ordinance would require every hotel in the city of Los Angeles to estimate how many unused rooms will be available for the homeless by 2 p.m.
“We need to be able to predict at 2 o’clock in the afternoon what that might look like, and that’s frankly impossible,” Davis said.
The hotel, adjacent to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and City Walk, is in high demand, he added.
“Sometimes we’ll have 30 to 40 people come in without a reservation and walk in,” Davis said. “A lot of people make plans at the end of their trip, or sometimes they just say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Universal today,’ and they’ll go there.”
Because of these examples, it’s difficult to predict how many rooms will be available at the end of the day, Davis continued.
The hotel association’s Hillen said there are a number of processes included in the ordinance that would place an “undue burden” on hotel owners and operators and their employees.
On the one hand, how would an individual in need of shelter be provided with a hotel room? Another is how the price will be set to compensate hotels, given that pricing is seasonal and demand driven, he said.
On vulnerable people needing social services, how they would be provided and liability issues, Hillan added: “There were a lot of things that were not made clear to the hoteliers,” he said.
Davis asked what would happen to the homeless person after the voucher was used and expired.
“It is very concerning that not only will the voucher system bring them into the domain of minors and children with the potential for hygiene issues to be brought into the hotel, then what happens after the voucher is completed?” he said.
“Who picks them up and who transports them to their next home? Most of these homeless people have no transportation, no way to get anywhere.