Congressional Earmarks Offer Hope for Addressing Homelessness Crisis

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Thanks to the revival of congressional earmarks, the building’s owner received a surprising call from a city housing official suggesting that Congress could fund the necessary updates.

Homelessness Crisis
Homelessness Crisis ( Photo: Los Angeles Times )

The Gower Street Apartments, a supportive housing development for formerly homeless individuals in Hollywood, may finally receive the much-needed repairs it requires

This proposal addresses a significant challenge faced by affordable housing developments across the country: while funds are readily available for constructing new housing, financial support for refurbishing existing residences is scarce.

The call in February marked the first time the Gower Street Apartments’ owner, Community of Friends, had been encouraged to seek help from Congress. CEO Dora Gallo stated that the nonprofit organization had never received an earmark in its history. The potential $3 million from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles would enable the renovation of the Gower Street Apartments, which have been providing supportive housing since 1997.

Mayor Karen Bass, drawing on her experience in Congress, is leveraging earmarks, now known as Community Project Funding, to address Los Angeles‘ most pressing issue: homelessness. She requested that every House and Senate representative for Los Angeles utilize one of their 15 annual earmark requests for a homelessness or housing-related project identified by her team. The total amount requested, $40 million, may seem modest compared to the federal budget, but it could make a substantial difference.

Although there are no guarantees, there is optimism that earmark requests will receive approval. Last year, earmarks accounted for approximately $9 billion in the final budget, with $1.75 billion allocated to preventing homelessness and expanding affordable housing nationwide. This year’s budget includes an estimated $15 billion for earmarks. However, there are challenges and uncertainties due to Republicans’ desire to reduce government spending and spending caps on domestic programs.

Mayor Bass remains proactive in preparing projects for potential funding approval

If the funding is secured, some of the money will be directed towards renovating properties, funding substance use treatment pilot programs, and even demolishing a city-owned parking structure to create supportive housing. Several California representatives, including Adam B. Schiff and Barbara Lee, have enthusiastically embraced earmarks, while Katie Porter has voiced opposition, citing concerns about corruption and favoritism.

As the process unfolds, it becomes evident that earmarks offer a unique opportunity to address critical needs that federal programs do not cover adequately. While debates over earmarks continue, the potential impact on homelessness and affordable housing in California presents an opportunity to bridge political divisions and unite representatives in their efforts to serve their constituents.


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