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The surprising landlord behind some of Skid Row’s troubled buildings

The Baltimore Hotel at 5th Street and Los Angeles Street.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning. It’s Monday, Nov. 20. I’m Liam Dillon and I write about housing affordability for the L.A. Times. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

The surprising landlord behind some of Skid Row’s troubled buildings

Single-room occupancy hotels are often considered the last rung of housing before homelessness. These properties, many a century old with tiny rooms and shared bathrooms on each floor, populate Skid Row, L.A.’s epicenter of homelessness. This year, Doug Smith, Benjamin Oreskes and I have investigated living conditions in SROs and found squalor and landlords struggling to manage the buildings.

While it might not be shocking to find rough circumstances in old, cheap Skid Row hotels, you might be surprised at who’s running them.

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The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest AIDS charity with more than $2 billion in annual revenue, is probably best known around Los Angeles for its provocative billboards advertising testing for sexually transmitted infections. The most recent one says “Just Use It” over a photo of a condom unfurled on a banana. Six years ago, the foundation decided to become a major tenant advocacy organization and begin buying up SROs in Skid Row.

Since then, the foundation has spent more than $300 million on political campaigns to expand rent control in California and purchase more than a dozen properties to convert into homeless housing. Foundation President Michael Weinstein made a promise to house homeless people cheaper and faster than government agencies and other nonprofits, despite having no experience in the field.

Inside the foundation’s buildings, we witnessed roach infestations, a frequently out-of-service elevator blocked off by yellow caution tape and more than a dozen eviction notices papering tenants’ doors on just one floor of one property.

We documented how a tenant’s dog was scalded to death two years ago when a radiator in his room exploded. Another resident nearly died last year after being shot in the hallway, an incident that led to an attempted murder charge against a fellow tenant with a documented history of violence.

Our investigation, which published this week, is the latest in a series that has examined the foundation’s record as a landlord. We also looked at the elevator problems in one building in detail and the charity’s relationship with Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de León, who represents Skid Row. De León received a six-figure consulting job from the foundation immediately before taking office and has been accused of ignoring problems in its buildings.

The foundation isn’t the only Skid Row landlord facing troubles. Earlier this year, Skid Row Housing Trust, once hailed as a model for supportive housing, financially collapsed, leading the city to push its 29 properties into receivership. The city has struggled with its response. The first receiver it put in charge was forced to resign within months after we found a checkered history of managing low-income tenants with some similar problems emerging in his handling of the trust matter. Meanwhile, some of the trust’s residents have fallen through the cracks and back into homelessness.

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All together, Skid Row Housing Trust and AIDS Healthcare Foundation have been operating more than 3,000 units of housing for some of L.A.’s most vulnerable. Their problems point to larger concerns about the future viability of SROs, a critical source of low-cost housing all the more necessary as Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mayor Karen Bass and other political leaders seek to end California’s homelessness crisis.

We’re continuing to dig in. You can read the full story here.

Today’s top stories

Caltrans crews make final preparations to reopen the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

I-10 fire

Rosalynn Carter (1927-2023)

  • Carter, the formidable first lady who helped modernize and expand the role of a U.S. president’s wife as she sat in on Cabinet meetings, spoke freely and pushed for mental health reform, has died at 96.

Health

Politics

Climate and environment

  • Excessive rainfall last winter from a string of atmospheric river storms caused a landslide in Rolling Hills Estates in July that destroyed eight homes and deemed several others unsafe, according to a city report.
  • Residents near the site of a historic Tustin hangar that burned down say they have received little guidance about air quality, contaminants and debris scattered across their neighborhoods.

Television and gaming

More big stories


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Commentary and opinions

Today’s great reads

A vehicle with an electric charging cable attached to it.
A vehicle charging in Pasadena.
(Los Angeles Times)

L.A. is going electric. Can it do so equitably? Low-income and non-white Angelenos are critical to L.A.’s transition to clean energy, yet the city is failing to invest adequately in bringing electric vehicle chargers, rooftop solar programs and energy efficiency improvements to their communities, a new report says.


How can we make this newsletter more useful? Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


For your downtime

Illustration of ten cookbooks surrounded by food
(Arabella Simpson / For The Times)

Going out

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And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

a man views a Batman-inspired black vehicle with orange detailing
An auto enthusiast views the Batmobile, which was formerly a Ford Futura, on display during the L.A. Auto Show, one of the world’s largest auto and mobility shows, at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Thursday.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Today’s great photo is from The Times’ Allen J. Schaben, from the L.A. Auto Show. The event features a variety of new and vintage vehicles, on display through this week. See more images here.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Liam Dillon, reporter
Laura Blasey, assistant editor

Check our top stories, topics and the latest articles on latimes.com.

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