Here’s one proposed solution to the issue of homelessness that is really thinking outside of the box. Los Angeles officials want to pay property owners for the use of their backyards — to house homeless people. According to a report from the LA Times, “In August, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $550,000 pilot program to build a handful of small backyard houses, or upgrade illegally converted garages, for homeowners who agree to host a homeless person or family.”
An additional $100,000 Mayor’s Challenge grant was awarded in February to allow a feasibility study of the units within the city limits. The pilot program would cover rent with low-income vouchers, with tenants contributing 30% of their incomes. There would be other financing options available as well.
The concept of backyard housing units for homeless people to occupy is certainly an interesting one, providing an inexpensive way to assist those in need in L.A. County. The units are expected to be affordable, costing about $350,000 each to build, and will occupy a small footprint, in addition to being able to be constructed quickly. It’s expected to take years to reach the goal of having 10,000 apartments completed, however, and the estimated cost for local government to finance a unit would be about $15,000 annually, which the LA Times reports is “roughly the cost of a shelter bed.”
Homeowner Trent Wolbe has a prototype unit being built in his yard, as he explained: “This is all about adding [housing] stock to a neighborhood that has gotten out of reach for everyone.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti said of the plan: “People are looking at what they can do to make our neighborhoods more affordable and help more Angelenos find stable places to live.” He added, “That’s why [backyard units] are attracting so much interest — they’re a relatively low-cost way for homeowners to play a big part in expanding our city’s housing stock, and make some extra money while they’re at it.”
The county found plenty of interest in the pilot program, with about 100 of 500 homeowners they contacted wanting to participate. The county is trimming their list to six finalists who will be chosen to have a backyard unit built on their property.
Larry Newman, manager in the Economic and Housing Development Division of the county’s Community Development Commission, noted, “We were overwhelmed with the interest.”
Multnomah County, Oregon has a similar pilot program, but found issues with tax, liability, and regulatory concerns, as Mary Li, director of the Multnomah Idea Lab, the agency that developed the program, noted: “Nobody has tried this; there is no rulebook.”
The units, known as granny flats, would have plumbing and cooking facilities and an added bonus for the tenants screened to live there: social services, including job training and counseling.
Garcetti noted that the proposal was “specifically designed to pair homeowners with homeless Angelenos who are stable, prepared to move in to housing, and ready to get their lives back on track.”
L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl added, “Many, many of them are just regular people like you and me who just lost their job or lost their house and really don’t have other choices.”