Homeless Effort a Catalyst for New Projects

Homeless Effort a Catalyst for New Projects

The Downtown Women’s Center is one beneficiary of the new funding.
Randall Michelson /

Despite constant public and private efforts, homelessness remains one of the LA’s most intractable issues. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were over 42,000 homeless people in LA County last year. That was down from previous years, but the city still has one of the largest populations in the country.

The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation last week announced that it was significantly stepping up its efforts to change that, announcing $13 million in grants to help house and aid the city’s homeless. Prior to this push the foundation had given about $20 million in grants and loans over the last six years combined. The efforts will mean more chances for architects to get involved in providing new and renovated lodgings for the homeless; a field that has already yielded work in a time where there’s little to go around.

“We’re ramping things up,” said Bill Pitkin, Director of Domestic Programs for the Hilton Foundation, which was created in 1944 and has handed out close to a billion dollars in grants in total. “LA is ground zero for long-term homelessness.  If we can do it here we can do it anywhere,” he said.

Residents enjoy a communal space inside the Downtown Women’s Center.

Courtesy Randall Michelson

The bulk of the funds —$9 million—will go to the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), a community development financial institution that helps banks and governments invest in residences for the homeless. The money will help spur the creation of 2,500 new permanent supportive housing units in LA County, including dwellings for youth leaving foster care, veterans, and the frequently sick. CSH also provides zero interest loans (called Project Initiation Loans) to developers to hire architects and other consultants to evaluate the feasibility of a potential housing site. “Often times architects are asked to front these costs themselves on the strength that they may get a contract at some point. This eliminates the risk for architects,” explains CSH LA Director Ruth Teague.

Other supportive housing non-profits receiving money include national organization Common Ground, which will take $600,000; while Mental Health America in Long Beach, St. Joseph Center in Venice, Skid Row Housing Trust in Downtown LA, and Step Up on Second in Hollywood will each receive $750,000. The Downtown Women’s Center in LA will receive $330,000 over two years to implement a program to help 80 chronically homeless women make the move into permanent housing.

“We really believe permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless is the key. The best way to help people achieve a healthy and fruitful life is to get a home,” said Pitkin, who added that once residents achieve stable living situations they can more effectively receive mental health, job preparation and other services. Several of California’s top architects have been involved with these organizations. Brooks + Scarpa (formerly Pugh + Scarpa) has designed housing for Step Up on Second;    

Three views of Michael Maltzan’s New Carver Apartments including a skyward view of the central atrium (left), an exterior view (center), and another atrium view (right).
Iwan Baan

Pitkin stresses that these efforts are only a “catalyst” to help the organizations get back to work and seek aid, which comes predominantly through public grants and tax incentives. “Our numbers are just a drop in the bucket” compared to such public funds, he notes. Those public dollars, he adds, have been down because of the economic situation, but “things are getting a little better, and we’re hopeful that things are going to pick up.”

“We’re at a tipping point in LA,” added Teague, who says that the supportive housing model has only recently become the blueprint for ending homelessness. In years past services had come before stable housing. “This is an opportunity to really turn the corner,” she said.