Los Angeles holds far more vacant houses than homeless people, LAist reports, but the numbers are murky. According to data from the American Community Survey, there are 93,535 vacant housing units in Los Angeles, compared to 36,165 people on the streets and in shelters, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), and 58,936 people homeless in Los Angeles County.
Meanwhile, the Strategic Action for a Just Economy states that there are three empty housing units for every homeless person in Los Angeles.
The group is targeting people and corporations that are keeping housing units vacant instead of renting them out, according to KABC. The group’s solution is to impose a vacancy tax on units that sit empty.
"It would put a fine or a penalty on owners who leave units vacant for more than three months out of the year," said Terra Graziani of the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action.
The tax was met with opposition from those who own the vacant units, with the California Apartment Association saying the vacancy rate in Los Angeles is low. The U.S. Census reports the city’s vacancy rate is 3.6%.
"We have seen no evidence that owners are deliberately keeping units vacant, which makes no financial sense," said Beverly Kenworthy of the California Apartment Association. "If a unit is vacant it could be for a number of reasons—new buildings typically take 8 to 12 months to fully lease or a unit could be undergoing rehab work. We believe a vacancy tax is a solution looking for a problem."
LAist states that more accuracy in these numbers are needed. City leaders have ordered their own study of vacancy in L.A., noting that some groups are not included in homeless counts, including squatters, as the LAHSA does vacant buildings are considered too dangerous to survey.