AIDS Healthcare accused of “inhumane conditions” at Skid Row housing

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, among the largest tenant advocates in the state, may also be one of Southern California’s biggest slumlords.

The Hollywood-based nonprofit, which owns 15 single-room occupancy hotels, motels and small apartment complexes across Los Angeles, is landlord for more than 1,300 tenants — many who live in squalid conditions and under threat of eviction, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The world’s largest AIDs charity, with $2.2 billion in annual revenues, has spent more than $300 million sponsoring statewide rent control ballot initiatives and buying affordable apartment complexes.

It’s also become one of Skid Row’s biggest landlords of mostly old single-room occupancy hotels.

But despite billing itself as a white knight in the battle against homelessness, the agency led by Michael Weinstein has received a growing number of black marks in managing housing for the poor.

A monthslong investigation by the Times found squalid conditions at numerous residential properties owned and run by the foundation. 

The worst conditions occurred at its 202-room Baltimore Hotel at 501 South Los Angeles Street, the 150-room King Edward Hotel at 121 East 5th Street and the 220-room Madison Hotel at 23 East 7th Street.

“The buildings were terrible, absolutely terrible,” Julia Coy, a former employee who worked daily in the three properties, told the Times. “Like inhumane conditions. People’s units were falling apart.”

The Times found roaches and bed bugs. Broken electricity, heating and plumbing systems. Frozen elevators. And mold infestations.

Code enforcement and public health complaints at foundation buildings are more than three times higher than those owned by other Skid Row nonprofits, according to the Times. 

On average, foundation buildings on Skid Row and in Westlake and Hollywood each have faced nearly eight code or public health complaints or emergency responses annually, according to a Times data analysis. Similar properties operated by other nonprofit landlords all had annual rates of two or less

Meanwhile, the foundation has evicted tenants over debts of just a few hundred dollars, eviction records show, while suing nearly 70 others for back rent in small claims court.

In a statement to The Times, foundation General Counsel Tom Myers said the organization has spent tens of millions of dollars renovating and repairing its properties. 

Myers said the foundation has increased occupancy by nearly 200 percent, meaning almost 1,000 people are off the streets.

The foundation’s problems, he said, are similar to those faced by any other Skid Row landlord, including operating old buildings while serving a troubled tenant population without enough support from the city.

“The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good,” Myers told the Times. “Six people die on the streets of Los Angeles every day.”

In February, the Skid Row Housing Trust, the largest owner of affordable housing along L.A.’s Skid Row, financially imploded and was forced to divest 29 properties that house thousands of low-income tenants. A receiver was replaced in three months, while the city shelled out millions of dollars to keep operations afloat.

— Dana Bartholomew

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