The Community "Don't" Care Ordinance Will Make More Veterans Homeless

Cheryl joined the Air Force to get away from her step-father who was molesting her. When she got out she got a good job, where she worked for several years. In 2010 her boyfriend began lacing their cigarettes with cocaine, and she got hooked. After telling her supervisor she needed help, she completed a 30 day treatment program at Kaiser, but it wasn't long enough. Cheryl was later referred to New Directions, a nonprofit that serves homeless veterans. In 2011 she moved into Keaveney House, a single family home owned by New Directions that houses six female veterans in the West L.A. neighborhood of Mar Vista. "I came to New Directions because I needed more time to deal with my issues and get things sorted out. They helped me get a divorce. They helped me get clean. If I stay on the right track, I can get my old job back within two years."

New Directions' Keaveney House has been helping women veterans get their lives back for over 17 years. Funded by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, HUD, and private donations, the place is clean, quiet and well-maintained. There are staff on-site 24 hours a day who provide each woman with case management, counseling and support. The staff maintains good relationships with neighbors, who have no complaints.

So why would the L.A. City Council pass a law that would shut down places like Keaveney House? The proposed Community Care Facilities Ordinance (CCFO) would do just that, and much more. In a misguided attempt to address nuisance "group homes," this dangerous ordinance will make it illegal to have unrelated people share a home in any residential neighborhood anywhere in L.A.

Sound like overkill? It is. It's also discrimination -- against veterans in recovery, people with disabilities, and seniors on fixed incomes who live with roommates. The proposed ordinance violates fair housing law, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the state's constitution right to privacy. If passed, disability rights advocates plan to sue, costing the city millions of dollars to battle a lawsuit, at a time when city workers are being laid off in droves.

The proposed ordinance would shut down well-established, responsible owners of shared housing like New Directions, because this type of housing is not licensed. One of New Directions' houses does have a license, but only because it provides more intensive drug & alcohol treatment, so it is licensed by the California Department of Alcohol & Drug Programs. But the other houses are for veterans further along in their recovery, and no license exists for this type of housing with services, known as "supportive housing."

For unlicensed facilities, the proposed ordinance says if you have more than one lease per property you are a "boarding house." Current zoning disallows boarding houses in 80-90 percent of all residentially zoned land in L.A. Nonprofits who get funding from HUD or other agencies are required to sign individual leases with each tenant. Separate leases are a good thing for both tenants and landlords. It helps the veteran build a good credit history and allows the landlord to evict a problem tenant without moving out the entire household. It protects a good tenant from potentially getting an eviction on their record because of someone else's bad behavior.

So even though New Directions' houses are heavily regulated by the VA, HUD and other funders, if the ordinance passes they will become "unlicensed boardinghouses" and will be shut down. As another Keaveney House resident put it:

To have this residential treatment center here and have a steady life and schedule format to follow has tremendously helped me have a life. I believe there should be enforcement of the neighbor laws so that if there is a house that's being noisy, the police can come out and fine those individuals. The ones that do cause the problems -- shut them down; don't shut the good guys down.

This dangerous, costly, and illegal ordinance originated from neighborhood council members in the Valley who are angry about some poorly run group homes that have become real nuisances to surrounding neighbors. Ironically, it is these un-regulated, often for-profit group homes who will be able to put everyone under one lease, and continue to operate. In other words, "the CCFO is like trying to kill an ant with a sledgehammer, and then missing the ant," says Greg Spiegal of Inner City Law Center. "It takes out all the good providers and misses the target -- nuisance properties that have too many people living under one roof."

While the CCFO wouldn't solve the problem or shut down nuisance group homes, it would shut down good landlords, make it illegal for property owners to have more than one renter, and make thousands of Angelenos homeless. The real solution is an effective nuisance abatement program, with staff dedicated to behavior based complaints. Other major cities are able to respond to behavior-based complaints and shut down landlords who allow nuisance behaviors to continue. We all want good neighbors, it's time to demand that Los Angeles put a system in place to force nuisance properties to clean up their act, or go out of business.

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