The latest development, or, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”
“It’s an old trick,” a Los Angeles realtor told me recently. “Many landlords become non-profits, because they pay themselves so much that there’s no profit.”
During the 2016 political campaign season, Michael Weinstein’s AIDS Healthcare Foundation introduced and financed several ballot measures. One was Prop 60, the mandatory “barrier protection” in porn measure; another was Prop 61, which would have forbade California to pay any more for the prescription drugs it purchases than does the federal Veterans Administration (and, incidentally, would have driven business to AHF’s pharmacies).
A lesser known effort was Measure S in Los Angeles, which aimed to place a moratorium on all development projects requiring zoning or height changes or adjustments to the city’s General Plan. Planned construction projects would have been stopped immediately.
Across Hollywood, billboards emblazoned with the web address, “StopManhattanwood.org” began to crop up, paid for by AHF.
Why would an organization whose stated mission is fighting HIV/AIDS spend precious resources fighting development and housing in Los Angeles? Especially when said housing is in such high demand (current L.A. rental vacancy rate is 2.7%, among lowest in nation).
The answer is simple: because Michael Weinstein’s office on the 21st floor of 6255 Sunset Blvd. stood to lose its expensive view if projects such as the proposed Palladium development moved forward.
The economics behind the measure made little sense: building less housing than people demand fuels high housing costs.
As the author of this reddit thread noted,
More supply of housing equals less demand and less stress on pricing. What the AIDS Health Foundation supports isn’t limits on development. It’s a complete STOP to any development.
That won’t do anything to help the working class. But it does help preserve the Foundation’s pretty views of the working class down below.
Alas, 2016 was not a great year for Weinstein’s pet projects: in March, Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly rejected the anti-development measure, and in November, Prop 60 was crushed by the adult industry (spending a fraction of what AHF had to promote it) and its prescription drug measure was also defeated.
The matter of Michael Weinstein’s precious office view remained, however.
Location, location, location
AHF has long been known to seek ways to hide its money. Off-shore bank accounts was one way, purchasing millions of dollars in property in Florida was yet another.
New York AIDS advocacy organization Housing Works has been purchasing, constructing and providing respectable housing for the HIV-positive since the early 1990s. So, what if AHF were to begin buying up properties in Los Angeles, particularly those which, if developed, might hamper Weinstein’s city views? Two birds, one stone, right?
We’re in business
In October 2017, only a year after AHF had pitted itself against “an array of developers, including those that build affordable housing”, AHF announced it was getting into the field of low-income housing in Los Angeles, and purchased the single-room occupancy Madison Hotel in downtown’s skid row for about $8 million. Skid row is, of course, miles from AHF’s executive offices, in every way.
Well, last week the other shoe finally dropped: out came the announcement that AHF’s “Healthy Housing Foundation” would purchase the old Sunset 8 Motel two blocks down the street from its offices, at a cost of $4.6 million.
For years, the underdeveloped and undervalued property has served as a hub for drugs and prostitution. AHF announced with its usual fanfare that it would be turning the location into much-needed transitional housing for low-income and homeless people in the city.
Not that L.A. couldn’t use more low-income housing, but are 27 rooms really going to put a dent in the problem? The Sunset 8 is a tiny structure.
Anticipating this critique, Weinstein stated that the severity of the city’s homelessness problem “dictate[s] that every possible type of housing be explored and pursued: tents, tiny houses, reused city buildings and especially, old motels.”
Yes, he actually said “tents”.
Based on the purchase price, the Sunset 8 Motel’s cost per unit is $170,370 per room/unit, but, as this article notes, that price does not include the expense of renovating the property. Perhaps Weinstein plans to put tents in the parking lot and on the roof.
If developed, and built upward, however, the location could comfortably house hundreds of needy people.
The net cost of the Madison Hotel purchase was a much more economically practical $36,000 per room… and furthermore it’s not adjacent to the Cinema Dome, the CNN building, trendy Hollywood night spots and luxury office spaces; it’s located at ground zero of the homeless and low-income debacle in L.A.
The Sunset 8 Motel purchase, we must assume, was justified by its other benefits.