(The Center Square) In March 2024, California primary voters will decide whether or not they wish to require hotels to shelter unhoused individuals in vacant rooms.
The ballot measure by Unite Here Local 11, a regional hospitality union becoming a major political powerhouse in Southern California and Arizona, has critics wondering why the union would push forward a measure they argue would only put union members in harm’s way. The answer, critics say, is power over the hotels as they bargain for higher wages in response to skyrocketing cost of living and being able to reassure their members that they can drive sufficient action on homelessness and the availability of affordable housing — without regard to fallout for the city’s residents and its still-recovering tourism industry.
Under the measure, hotels must report vacant rooms to the City of Los Angeles Housing Department by 2:00 PM each day. The department would then refer unhoused individuals to those hotels, paying a “fair market rate” for lodging them. Notably, hotels would not be required to hold these vacant rooms for program participants, and hotels would be unable to refuse to accept such vouchers or put in rules specifically for voucher holders.
Additionally, the measure would require “market demand for the project, and the project’s impact on affordable housing, transit, social services, employees, and local businesses” to be considered in land use permits for hotel developments with 100 or more rooms, and require hotel development projects with 15 or more rooms to replace demolished or converted housing with an equivalent amount of affordable housing at or near the project site.
Unite Here 11 represents over 32,000 members in the hospitality industry employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas, and convention centers across Southern California and Arizona. The union is currently involved in a two-month-old, citywide strike, which the union said in a news release is motivated by the high cost of living — especially housing.
Due to an enduring housing shortage and little new construction, a Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Census data found the county maintains the highest rate of overcrowding in the United States, more than New York City.
In a statement published by Local 11, Jovani Ramirez – a cook who works at both the Beverly Hilton and Fairmont Century Plaza and commutes from Santa Clarita – said, “I am going on strike because I work two full-time jobs to provide for my four children. I need free family healthcare because my youngest son is autistic. It is morally wrong that I work 16 hours a day in our most prosperous industry but cannot afford to live in Los Angeles.”