HOMELESSNESS — INFLECTION POINT
Part 4 of Southern California in Transition with Lew Horne
Sign up to receive research, perspectives and ideas from CBRE.
Southern California is in an Amazing Period of Transition.
I recently received the Bill of Rights Award from the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Needless to say, I was humbled and energized by this honor from such an esteemed organization.
CRF’s mission is to educate young people to become active and responsible participants in our society. I can’t think of a more fundamental need in these times, as our Southern California community grapples with critical issues such a growth, globalization, education, and inclusiveness.
“This process not only motivated us to re-imagine where and how we work and collaborate, but also what we do and who we are—as real estate professionals and members of the Southern California community.”
The CRF award is particularly gratifying because I see it not just as a reflection of my personal values but of the journey CBRE and our Southern California team commenced five years ago.
That journey started with a rethink and transformation of our Los Angeles headquarters office. This process not only motivated us to re-imagine where and how we work and collaborate, but also what we do and who we are—as real estate professionals and members of the Southern California community. Thanks to our efforts, I’d like to think we are out in front as a company.
In my last article, I wrote about the growing importance of “experience” when we consider where we live, work, and play. A focus on experience highlights the difference between built and made environments. This goes for real estate as well as the setting in which it is located.
The importance of collaboration and community, of responsibility to the people we work, live and interact with—both at firms such as CBRE and in the way we think and talk about the world—has moved me to focus some of my energy on a persistent and inhumane problem that we all see -- every day -- in all corners of Southern California—homelessness.
Here is what I know and have learned to be true.
A business leader perspective
Southern California is booming. We have record low vacancy rates across many different property sectors and record high property prices. Major companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and Chipotle as well as smaller start-ups and overseas companies want to be part of the action. Foreign investors are flocking to the region: For the past two years, Los Angeles has been rated as one of the world’s most attractive real estate market by global investors surveyed by CBRE.
Every day I meet with and show business leaders and investors around our community. And while I have a great story to tell, they quickly notice something else: Homeless people and encampments along and under our freeways, on our sidewalks and in our parks and arroyos. I try to explain our predicament in an honest way and ponder effective solutions yet I often find myself at a loss of words – I don’t have a good answer.
“Yet visitors don't draw such boundaries: All they see is the sheer size of the problem and are befuddled as to why we have let the problem grow to such proportions.”
Just the way Southern Californians like to differentiate the neighborhoods in which they live and work in -- Coto de Caza, Ocean Beach, Playa Vista, Brentwood, NoHo, and HiFi -- we tend to segment our homeless community as well: Skid Row, Gaslight, and the Santa Ana River.
Yet visitors don't draw such boundaries: All they see is the sheer size of the problem and are befuddled as to why we have let the problem grow to such proportions.
Working together, or not?
The good news is that everyone agrees that homelessness is a big problem and that it’s getting worse. Yet I am firmly convinced that it is solvable.
I’ve walked the streets with LAPD officers and spoken with people experiencing homelessness and those who provide services to them. I’ve conferred with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. They and their peers in government are laser focused on this issue. So are the Central City Association, the United Way, USC, and countless other civic organizations.
In LA County and LA city, voters in 2016 and 2017 generously supported two measures—a sales tax increase and a bond issue—to raise billions of dollars for homeless services, shelters, and supportive housing. The state also has upped its spending and has eased regulations to speed housing development.
But this is not enough. Two perennial problems that plague real estate in Southern California are also hobbling our response to homelessness—regulation and NIMBYism.
Legal provisions that are justifiably aimed at protecting the rights of the homeless also are undermining our efforts to keep our streets clean and safe. Homeowners and businesses are penalized for creating public health and safety hazards, and yet these risks are all around us.
“We need common sense solutions that strike the right balance between individuals and community. And we must accept that our efforts will not satisfy everyone as we work hard to solve the problem.”
Neighborhood organizations and vocal individuals are resisting efforts to build shelters and supportive housing even as the homeless population grows on the streets about them.
We need common sense solutions that strike the right balance between individuals and community. And we must accept that our efforts will not satisfy everyone as we work hard to solve the problem. For this, policymakers and social services agencies need political cover from all of us.
I love Southern California. And my passion is helping to solve homelessness here. The CRF award is reinforcing my passion to make positive long-term change and impact in our community, and I hope you will join me on this journey.
If you’d like to read more about my personal perspective on this topic and how CBRE Southern California focused its summer internship on helping to solve the region’s homelessness crisis, please click here to read my opinion piece, published in the Los Angeles Business Journal.