The surprising landlord behind some of Skid Row’s troubled buildings
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
- L.A. is going electric. Can it do so equitably?
- Our guide to the best new cookbooks of 2023
- And here’s today’s e-newspaper
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.
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.
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
- A crucial tranche of the 10 Freeway south of downtown L.A. reopened Sunday night and will be ready for the busy morning commute — a day earlier than previously expected and weeks ahead of original projections.
- Behind the scenes, crews were scrambling to hit a more ambitious target and have the overpass ready for Thanksgiving travel, though it remains unclear how the timeline for reopening shifted so drastically.
- The California State Fire Marshal’s office released a photo and description of a “person of interest” in connection with the massive arson fire that burned beneath Interstate 10.
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.
- For years, researchers raised alarms about the renewed threat of deadly disease among workers cutting engineered stone as it surged in popularity for homes.
- ICYMI: California workers who cut countertops for kitchens and bathrooms are dying of an incurable disease with little protection and little warning about the risks.
- The same California Senate seat will be on your ballot four times in 2024 thanks to an unusual set of circumstances. The quadruple ballot could introduce a note of chaos to an already crowded election field.
- Democrats are split on Israel and the race for Feinstein’s Senate seat, as 2024 looms.
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
- In the year since Bob Iger returned to Disney, he has been trying to fix one problem after another in nearly every corner of the Burbank behemoth.
- Univision has found itself at the center of a growing controversy after a recent interview with former President Trump that critics have blasted as too friendly.
- The video game industry boomed during the pandemic. Now thousands are being laid off.
More big stories
- A crush of passengers descended upon Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday in what officials anticipated will be the busiest travel day of the holiday week.
- As a boy, he lost a leg and his mother in an attack on Gaza. Can he now keep his own children safe?
- SpaceX’s Starship Mars rocket and spacecraft launched for the second time early Saturday morning, making it through liftoff and a planned separation of the uncrewed ship and rocket booster before both ended up exploding.
- A space engineer who brought us images of Mars confronts Earth’s brutal realities in Gaza.
- Beginning next year, California’s public school students will be required to take media literacy courses that will help them identify fake news posted online while also being able to tell the difference between legitimate news articles and paid advertising.
- A pair of months-old mountain lion siblings who were orphaned about a week ago found a temporary home at the Oakland Zoo.
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Commentary and opinions
- Robin Abcarian: What Los Angeles freeways, and fires underneath them, teach us about ourselves.
- Editorial: The 10 Freeway was fixed in days. Why can’t more transportation projects get fast tracked?
- George Skelton: Pete Wilson showed how a California governor should respond to an L.A. freeway disaster.
- Steve Lopez: Here’s what you should know about hospice care, from a hospice nurse.
- Doyle McManus: Xi and Biden agreed on easy steps. But can they reach stability on bigger issues?
- Opinion: My neighbor’s RV was his home. When someone drove away with it, a grim situation turned dire.
- Paul Thornton: I love L.A.’s noisy parrots. Poachers should leave these wild creatures alone.
- Opinion: What Biden’s staunch support for Israel’s war in Gaza will cost America.
- LZ Granderson: The costs of climate change are falling on states that can’t afford them.
Today’s great reads
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.
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For your downtime
- ? Pick up a new cookbook for yourself or a loved one from our list of 2023 favorites. (Psst: Find a place to shop in person here.)
- ?? So a loved one is in town and wants to explore L.A. Here are 15 Angeleno-approved alternatives to the usual tourist spots.
- ?? Hip-hop legend MC Lyte says her perfect Sunday in L.A. includes bike riding and beach lounging.
- ? ‘Tis the season for holiday movies and specials, from “Elf” to Selena Gomez to ’80s divas.
- ? The Powerpuff Girls are 25 years old. Here’s how sugar, spice and a certain chemical X-factor made the show a hit.
- ? Here are recipes to re-purpose your Thanksgiving leftovers, including sandwiches, casseroles and gumbo.
- ?? Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games.
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.
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