As the President continues to get into scraps with the Governor of California and the mayors of several major cities on the left coast, add Los Angeles to the list. But this time, rather than just seeing accusations coming from both sides, there might be a workable solution to a very real problem in the offing. We’ve already spent considerable time covering the exploding homelessness problem in the City of Angels, and asking if there’s nothing to be done about it. But what if there was?
On the outskirts of L.A. sits the abandoned Hawthorne Federal Building, formerly the west coast home of the Federal Aviation Administration. Homeless advocates had previously asked if the facility might be repurposed to house displaced citizens, but they were turned away. Now, however, Donald Trump’s team on the ground is talking about using the building for just that purpose. (Government Executive)
One option under discussion is to use a former government building just outside Los Angeles to house (or detain) people now living in Skid Row in downtown L.A., where some 8,000 to 11,000 people are typically living on the streets. Federal officials have already reportedly toured the facility, the former West Coast headquarters of the Federal Aviation Administration, located 20 miles away in Hawthorne, California.
But a review of public records shows that the government previously rejected two efforts by advocacy groups to use the former Federal Aviation Administration building to serve the homeless.
Repurposing federal properties to provide homeless services isn’t a new or unprecedented idea: In fact, federal law already requires the government to make unused properties available to advocacy organizations that provide shelter or services to the homeless.
Could this building provide housing for all of the homeless in the Skid Row area? (Estimated to be between eight and eleven thousand.) No. Not even close. But it could hold a lot of them. You can take a look at the building here. It’s six stories tall and as long as a city block. It would require some work, most likely in the form of adding more bathrooms and lots of showers, but other than that it might be quite serviceable.
There are, unfortunately, complicating factors. First of all, the site has been named a historic landmark because of its period architectural style. That doesn’t mean it can’t be sold, but it does throw a wrench in the works.
Perhaps the bigger barrier comes from the politics involved. Even if both the federal and municipal governments want to do this, there remain questions of who will handle the logistics and (probably more importantly) who will get the credit. The President would like Washington to tackle the conversion and have federal agents rounding up the homeless and transferring them to the new facility. The city would obviously rather handle it themselves in cooperation with advocacy groups. We might be setting up for a stalemate here that shuts down a potentially viable answer to a significant challenge.
On that note, even if the Hawthorne Building can’t be made to work, the government is still sitting on a vast number of properties, both government and military in nature, that are collecting dust. Finding some way to get them back on the tax rolls, or at least serving some useful purpose, should be an obvious choice. And I’m not talking about only in Los Angeles. There are abandoned military bases and other facilities around the country, some with track housing that’s ready to be refurbished and put to use just sitting there. If the President is willing to go along with this, why not make it happen?
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