Anderson M.B.A. student Shahrouz Golshani, 34, has an ambitious goal: to build 1,000 homes for the homeless.
"I have been called naive many times this year," he conceded. But considering he admitted that in a speech at a crowded conference kicking off a competition to actually design those 1,000 homes, it's clear that people can no longer dismiss the idea as an idealist's dream.
In fact, it's no longer just his plan – it's now in the hands of the 1,000 Homes Coalition.
The 1,000 Homes plan is starting relatively small, with a competition between teams of graduate students, including two UCLA teams, who will work with local cities to design feasible supportive housing. The students will have to overcome political and financial realities, from obtaining permits and overcoming community opposition to building quality homes on a budget. The student's solutions will form the basis for legislation and real housing projects.
Golshani obtained a $25,000 grant for the plan from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Foundation — he's a member of ULI's Los Angeles branch, one of the sponsors of 1,000 Homes. In fact, the plan is sponsored by a slew of local agencies, from homeless services provider Shelter Partnership to UCLA's Ziman Center for Real Estate, which hosted the conference on campus April 10. The conference was in part a daylong briefing to get the students up to speed, explained Tim Kawahara, executive director of the Ziman Center in UCLA's Anderson School of Management.
"To make informed housing proposals, they need to be briefed — about financing, entitlements, permits, real estate development, demographic studies of homelessness in Los Angeles, how to address community opposition, all these things," Kawahara said. "The idea is that these teams of young leaders will create viable proposals for creating supportive housing, with recommendations to cities of policies to put in place to make it attractive to developers, the community and others."
The five interdisciplinary teams are composed of six to eight students, including those studying business, urban planning, law, architecture, real estate development, public policy and public health students, and more. They, in turn, are teamed up with municipal partners: Pasadena, the Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District, five San Gabriel Valley cities and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The cities and agencies will meet with the student teams to give them a taste of the real-world obstacles to building supportive housing. Although 1,000 Homes doesn't ask them to build, by the end of the competition each agency will have a fully developed plan tailored to their needs that they might want to implement.
"We're not going to these cities and saying, 'You have to do this.' There's no commitment to build. ... It's a learning exercise," Golshani said. "The students will meet with the client and see what their struggles are, and drill down to a specific site and design a specific project. They will do a funding plan, a design plan, a development strategy, a community outreach plan, all of it."
There are roughly 80,000 homeless in Los Angeles County, including 6,700 in West Los Angeles, homeless experts said at the conference. And it's only getting worse in the current economy.
"These are our community members. About 80 percent are originally from L.A. County. Almost 90 percent are from Southern California," said Michael Arnold, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. "But we are woefully under-inventoried in shelter beds — 83 percent of the homeless have no shelter."
The supportive housing that 1,000 homes hopes to build – permanent housing with services — is geared toward helping the chronically homeless, said Jonathan Hunter, the Corporation for Supportive Housing's western region managing director.
"The system that moves people from emergency shelters to transitional housing to permanent housing works extremely well for most people," Hunter said. "But 10-15 percent get stuck and never get out of the system, and they use more than 50 percent of the resources."
That population needs the services provided by permanent supportive housing, which actually reduces costs to cities by reducing emergency room visits and imprisonment while increasing employment and stability, Hunter said.
With the lessons learned by the student competition teams, 1,000 Homes will learn what policies are needed to build all those homes within five years, predicted Golshani, who is managing director of Plaza Property Group in Los Angeles while working on earning his M.B.A. He hopes to become an affordable housing developer.
"Imagine if each city in the county built just one moderately sized project," he said. "We would surpass our goal four times over."