Just weeks after he was publicly rebuked for chiding residents displaced by a Los Angeles police fireworks explosion, Councilmember Curren Price introduced a motion Wednesday for the city to continue supporting families still living in a hotel.
Price’s motion would authorize $2.37 million to assist with housing for those whose homes were severely damaged. It follows heavy criticism of the councilmember, who recently told a Times reporter that some residents living in the Level Hotel downtown are “gaming the system a little bit.”
Price later apologized for what he described as “insensitive” comments and said his office was looking into securing additional funding to allow the victims to stay at the hotel “for an extended period of time” beyond a March 31 city deadline.
On June 30, 2021, the LAPD bomb squad botched the detonation of a fireworks cache discovered in the backyard of a home on 27th Street. The resulting blast injured 17 people and badly damaged homes. More than 80 residents were displaced.
After the blast, 89 people were moved into the Level Hotel, which was paid for by taxpayer dollars. As of last month, 57 people were occupying 20 rooms there.
“I want to be clear, my office has never abandoned these families in this time of crisis and we never will,” Price said at a City Council meeting Wednesday. “The reality is, [Council District 9] has inherited a tremendous tragedy, and my community needs ongoing support from the entire city, including our council. The city has an obligation to these residents, and I will ensure that those obligations continue to be met with compassion, with care and with urgency.”
Price’s motion was introduced Wednesday, after being signed by him and seconded by Councilmember Heather Hutt during Tuesday’s meeting. Price had intended to formally introduce the proposal Tuesday, but it wasn’t accepted by the City Clerk’s office due to a technicality after the meeting adjourned early, Price’s office said.
It now needs to be heard in the budget and finance committee before it comes back to full City Council for approval.
The motion would authorize the appropriation of $2.27 million for the Community Investment for Families Department to extend the contract at the Level through June 30, with a six-month extension option. That extension will be on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with all parties involved, according to the department.
It would also authorize the transfer of $100,000 to the Los Angeles Housing Department to extend its contract with Overland Pacific & Cutler through Jan. 23, 2024, for continued relocation assistance.
However, some expressed concern that residents are not receiving relocation assistance and that the extension at the hotel is not long enough.
“We were clear with Price’s office that our demand was for indefinite housing for tenants and homeowners until they were returned to their repaired homes or to permanent affordable housing,” said Ron Gochez, a community organizer with Unión del Barrio who has helped organize residents of 27th Street. “I’m pretty confident that won’t happen by June.”
In a January letter, city officials told families that the contract for temporary housing assistance would end on March 31. Residents would be responsible for any charges at the hotel after that date, the letter stated.
In interviews last month, city officials blamed unresponsive residents and their legal counsel for delays in getting families relocated or back into their houses.
After criticism mounted, Price walked the deadline back.
“We will work with the families until they find suitable housing or accept relocation funds,” he said in a statement. “The city of L.A. will not abandon them, and rest assured they will not be subjected to any type of eviction that can cause further pain and trauma.”
The city has received 414 claims related to the fireworks blast and has reached settlements in 129. Payouts have totaled $475,209.
On March 1, following news of the extension, around 20 renters and homeowners gathered for a community meeting to talk about their needs. A representative from Price’s office also attended.
“Why is Curren Price not here?” asked Cindy Reyes, who is helping her mom pay the mortgage on their home on 27th Street.
Reyes, whose family has taken steps to fix their home, stressed that each family needs to be assessed individually. She also asked that families receive a formal letter telling them that their hotel stay would be extended.
Other residents voiced concerns that Overland Pacific & Cutler hadn’t yet communicated with them.
Asked about the results of that meeting, Price spokesperson Angelina Dumarot said the city is finalizing a letter to go out to residents informing them of the extension.
Dumarot added that the office has requested that Overland make every effort to reach out to the families, including through phone calls, emails and visits to the hotel. Price would like to start seeing weekly reports from them, as well, she said.
Times staff writer Julia Wick contributed to this report.