Hotels Received Taxpayer Money, but Refused to Participate in Project Roomkey

In a new report, hotels cite everything from logistical issues to potential negative ”impact on the brand”

Of the 15,000 people Los Angeles County expected to house in hotel rooms through Project Roomkey, only around 4,100 people have received shelter. A new report details reasons given by hotels that were expected to participate for why they ultimately did not do so, with one reporting that it feared offering rooms to unhoused people during the pandemic might have an adverse “impact on the brand.”

Project Roomkey was one of a series of programs developed by officials in the early days of pandemic, intended to provide shelter for L.A.’s most medically vulnerable unhoused people. The concept was to lease rooms in local hotels—many of which were already empty or near-empty during stay-at-home orders—to give the individuals a space to quarantine. The hotels would be paid around $95 to $120 per night for each room.

The new report, requested by L.A. City Council Members Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, looks specifically at hotels in Los Angeles that received taxpayer assistance for their construction or sit on property formerly owned by the city, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Sixteen hotels are listed in the report as having been approached by officials about participating in Project Roomkey but not doing so. Of that 16, several were simply deemed ineligible due to logistical factors or were already participating in other programs, such as offering their rooms for medical staff and first responders.

Four hotels–Doubletree, Omni, Sheraton, and Miyako–either stated no reason for not participating, or “expressed concerns about impact on the brand.”

At the Biltmore, a deal was scuttled when an unnamed entity that is a major customer of the hotel said it would stop booking rooms in the future if the hotel participated. The Biltmore offered rooms to LAPD officers instead.

Jon Vein, president of L.A.’s tourism board and the person tasked with working out deals for hotels to participate in Project Roomkey, told the Times that most of the hotels were “trying to the do the right thing” and cooperated where possible—but he described other entities involved as “bad actors.”

While he did not offer specific names, Vein told the paper about a financier that threatened to pull out of one hotel if they participated, and another company which operates multiple hotels where managers made it “very clear they did not want any of the hotels they managed to house homeless people.”

A lack of enthusiasm is not the only reason Project Roomkey fell short of its goals, some say. A representative for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles told the Times that many hotels found the contracting process to participate to be complicated, and felt they were not provided answers on a number of matters–even as basic as when the project would end and they could resume normal bookings.

“The broader issue that this helps inform is, why hasn’t Project Roomkey been more successful?” Councilmember Bonin said of the report. “Is it unwillingness on the part of the hotels? … Too much bureaucracy? Too many rules? And honestly, it sounds like all of the above.”

RELATED: Activists and Council Members Want to Know Why Many L.A. Hotels Aren’t Housing the Homeless

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