Thinking Outside the Box to Address Homelessness

The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative announced the winners of the first-ever Housing Innovation Challenge, a call for proposals that has awarded $4.5 million in Measure H funding for game-changing creative and scalable permanent housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County. The Housing Innovation Challenge has made four awards at the $1 million level and one at the $500,000 level for faster, cost-effective construction/rehabilitation and/or creative finance models to produce permanent housing for the County’s most vulnerable residents.

Housing Innovation Challenge Winner United Dwelling depicts garage conversion rendering.

At a time of heightened collaboration in the region, this effort was designed to activate stakeholders and creative strategists across the region to contribute sustainable solutions to homelessness. The Challenge received more than 50 proposals, which were evaluated by a panel of experts in urban planning, real estate development, affordable housing and architecture. Each awarded project will result in the production of permanent housing for homeless families or individuals in Los Angeles County.

“Everyone who calls Los Angeles home should live in communities that afford them dignity and worth,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “These novel yet practical solutions will allow the County and its private sector partners to scale up compassion and innovation in a thoughtful manner. This is truly Measure H at work!”

Housing Innovation Challenge Winner “Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles” depicts accessible units with equity participation from neighbors in South LA.

The funded projects are:

  • Brooks + Scarpa Architects, Inc. – NEST: A Prefab Modular, Sustainable Kit of Parts that can be assembled on any typical 50 x 150 parcel ($1 million)
  • Flyaway Homes, LLC – Modular Permanent Supportive Housing Communities, to scale their model of leveraging private equity to develop supportive housing faster and at ¼ the cost per person ($1 million)
  • LifeArk, SPC – LifeArk Micro-Communities, a kit-of-parts building system that is developable on any lot size or shape ($1 million)
  • United Dwelling – Detached Garage Conversion into Affordable Studios, for its institutional development of beautifully-designed garage-converted Accessory Dwelling Units ($ 1 million)
  • Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles – South LA Bungalow Project for its neighborhood shared equity model for accessible units built by-right in a traditional bungalow style courtyard ($500,000)

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas shows off the three winning projects that will be built in the Second District of Los Angeles County.

“The Challenge was issued at a critical juncture in the Countywide movement to combat and prevent homelessness,” said Phil Ansell, Director, L.A. County Homeless Initiative. “While our collective efforts are moving in the right direction, this was a unique opportunity to solicit new approaches and continue to advance our efforts to help people move from homelessness to housing.”

Three of the winners –Flyaway Homes, United Dwelling, and Restore Neighborhoods — plan to implement projects in the County’s Second District. Meanwhile, another winner, Brooks + Scarpa Architects, is headquartered in the Second District.

To view the winning submissions and honorable mentions, visit


Winners of the Housing Innovation Challenge join Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and L.A. County Homeless Initiative Director Phil Ansell. All photos by Dave Franco / Board of Supervisors

Transforming Communities with the Empowerment Congress

At the 27th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit on Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Weekend, about 1,200 people came to bear witness and celebrate the many ways that civic engagement can profoundly transform communities for the better.

Held at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) in Willowbrook for the first time ever, the Summit featured speeches from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, founder of the Empowerment Congress; as well as U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragan, whose congressional district includes Willowbrook; and Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass, president of the California State Association of Counties.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“Dr. King stands as a global giant, one who stirred our souls and sparked our conscience to not only dream big for ourselves but to act boldly to ensure a better tomorrow,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “By continuing to be steadfast in our efforts to spur not just change but transformative change, we will succeed in building communities of opportunity for all Angelenos.”

“The beauty of the Empowerment Congress is that it is a vehicle from which people can directly and consistently participate in their government,” Rep. Bass added. “For years, members of the Empowerment Congress have stuck with the hard work of representing the conflicting interests in our community and working together to help our community. If this body existed around the nation, Americans everywhere would understand their responsibility to participate beyond the voting booth. I’m honored to be a part of this.”

Quattrosound performs at the 27th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“To produce lasting positive change in a community, its residents must first recognize their strength and power,” Rep. Barragan said. “Thanks to the grassroots leadership of the Empowerment Congress and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, more families in the Watts-Willowbrook area are being empowered to develop solutions to our most pressing issues and leading change through action. I am glad to see this year’s Empowerment Congress convening hosted in my Congressional District and look forward to the positive results it produces.”

The next generation of transformation is on its way to Willowbrook.  Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The theme of the Summit was Transforming Communities, and the plenary session showcased how the Empowerment Congress has supported community transformation over the years, including advocating for the rebirth of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, ramping up innovative solutions to homelessness, promoting workforce development in the bioscience industry, and calling for more diversity in the creative economy.

The Summit also featured five interactive workshops and a bus tour of Willowbrook, a community that once reeled from civil unrest but has since been transformed in recent years by unprecedented development that includes the sprawling Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus, Metro’s Rosa Parks Station, Magic Johnson Park, and CDU.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and CDU President Dr. David Carlisle at the 27th Empowerment Congress Summit. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

CDU President and CEO Dr. David Carlisle said, “As a community-founded educational institution located in an under-resourced area, we recognize the importance of formally organized civic engagement as a means of effective positive change.  It was a similar dynamic that led to the creation of CDU in the wake of the Watts Revolt over five decades ago.  We look forward to working with Empowerment Congress leadership and all participants to transform South LA and communities like it.”

Since 1992, the Empowerment Congress has worked to educate, engage and empower individuals and communities to take control of their futures. A precursor to neighborhood councils, it is a dynamic partnership among neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and community leaders within the diverse communities of LA County’s Second Supervisorial District.

A selection of videos shown at the plenary session are available below:

A New Era in California

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas On the Inauguration of Governor Gavin Newsom

 “I look forward to a new era of leadership under Governor Gavin Newsom, confident that he will be a strong partner with Los Angeles County in addressing the crisis of homelessness, as well as a host of other issues. I am particularly eager to work with the new governor to jumpstart California’s creative economy and the bioscience industry, as these will create thousands of jobs across the state.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is a member of Governor Gavin Newsom’s transition team, called “All In California” Ambassadors.

BioLA: Innovation Catalyst and Entrepreneurial Hub

The Board of Supervisors has thrown its weight behind Bioscience Los Angeles County (BioLA), a nonprofit corporation created to accelerate the growth and development of the County’s bioscience industry.

Unanimously acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board directed LA County’s Chief Executive Officer and departments to support BioLA’s mission to serve as an innovation catalyst and entrepreneurial hub for government, research institutions and private investors to accelerate startup activity and amplify economic opportunity.

Modeled after the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which catapulted Boston into of the world’s leading bioscience hubs, BioLA will help coordinate academic institutions, research hospitals, investors, startups, mature companies, trade associations and public and quasi-public agencies to advance the pace of innovation.

BioLA will also facilitate local job creation. Currently, much of the talent and commercializable research developed at LA County’s world-renowned universities migrate to other, more developed, bioscience hubs.

“LA County has always been a bioscience powerhouse from a research perspective, but now we are flexing our entrepreneurial muscle,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “LA County has a deep bench of young companies as well as a diverse pipeline of relevant underlying research. BioLA is being formalized to further encourage the region’s top scientists to partner with entrepreneurs and commercialize, as well as to ensure that the core elements of startup activity – infrastructure, capital and talent – exist in abundance for all early stage life science companies.”

A 2014 study by the Battelle Memorial Institute affirmed LA County’s potential for becoming a national bioscience industry leader and identified the enablers that could grow the industry and help LA County realize its full potential. In 2016, under contract to the County, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation released the Los Angeles County Bioscience Industry Cluster Development Implementation Plan. A key need identified by these two reports was the establishment of an entity that could serve as a hub for knowledge, innovation resources, coordination among players, and greater cohesion around biosciences countywide.

As a non-profit corporation, BioLA will be funded through various donations and will recruit and retain staff who will work to promote the Los Angeles region as a national hub for bioscience. It is to have a 12-member founding board which includes Amgen SVP of Business Development David Piacquad. More director announcements are anticipated in January.

Supporting BioLA is only the latest LA County initiative to boost the bioscience industry. LA County has also funded bioscience incubators at California State University Los Angeles and at LA BioMed on the Harbor-UCLA Medical Campus; set aside 15-acres on the Harbor-UCLA Medical Campus for the development of a biotech park; allocated $15 million to create a Bioscience Investment Fund for early-stage startups, and partnered with community colleges and industry leaders to implement life sciences apprenticeship programs.

Spotlight on the Creative Economy

Los Angeles County’s world-class entertainment and sporting venues include: (clockwise from top left) Lucas Museum, LA Memorial Coliseum, Rams LA Stadium in Inglewood, and LA Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium.

The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) will place new emphasis on efforts to stimulate job growth, particularly in the creative economy. Acting on a recommendation by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, CSAC updated its work plan during its 124th annual meeting in San Diego to support:

  • proposals that stimulate economic development, regional job growth, increase small business creation, create well-paying jobs for workers of all skill levels, including high poverty and high unemployment areas; and
  • research and development in high growth and emerging industries, including but not limited to, life science, arts, culture, entertainment/sport and film and digital media, as well as the job training and educational opportunities that train the workforce to support these industries.

CSAC represents California’s 58 counties – ranging from Alpine with a little more than 1,200 people, to Los Angeles with more than 10 million – before the state and federal governments, as well as administrative agencies. Its long-term objective is to significantly improve the fiscal health of all California counties so they can adequately meet the demand for vital public programs and services.

“In the imagination capital of the world, home to world-class sports and entertainment venues as well as arts and cultural institutions, California’s diverse and skilled local workforce have so much potential to thrive,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “I am hopeful that the new administration in Sacramento will support CSAC’s efforts to advocate for greater investment in the creative economy.”

According to the Otis Report, the creative economy — which includes arts and culture, sports and entertainment – generated $407 billion in economic output across California in 2016, and accounted for 1.6 million direct, indirect, and induced jobs. In Los Angeles County, it generated $198 billion in economic output, supported close to one-fifth of all jobs and directly employed over 10 percent of all private sector workers, resulting in $60 billion in wages earned and $9 billion in tax revenues.