Supporting Supportive Housing

Lorcan O'Herlihy's supportive housing project with Skid Row, in downtown LA (Courtesy Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects)

Los Angeles’ Permanent Supportive Housing program got a much-needed emergency shot of funds this week: a $5.2 million pledge from the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) and Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Though Los Angeles has more homeless people than any other city in the US, only in the last few years has it begun to catch up with other cities’ level of services. 2005 saw a city-wide push to build supportive housing, a model borrowed from New York that combines affordable housing with services to help residents deal with mental illness, drug abuse, and disabilities.

Top architecture firms helped fill out the new supportive housing landscape, with innovative projects such as Michael Maltzan’s 95-unit, radially-arranged New Carver Apartments, Pugh + Scarpa’s 46-unit Step Up on Fifth facility in Santa Monica, and Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects’ 82-unit Skid Row Housing in downtown Los Angeles.

But the economic downturn put a freeze on construction of new supportive housing and has forced program cuts, hiring freezes and layoffs. Out of the over 2,000 units under development since the program was launched five years ago, about 600 are shovel-ready but lack the financing to proceed, due to local government budget crises and frozen credit markets.

The CSH and Hilton foundation’s $5.2 million in grants and low-interest loans should get most of those projects going again. Since studies show that supportive housing actually saves the city money — reducing costly time in jails and hospitals — that may turn out to be not just a good deed, but a smart investment as well.

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