Bill would prevent cities from requiring hoteliers to house the homeless

An effort by homeless advocates in Los Angeles to require hoteliers in that city to make vacant rooms available to the homeless won’t gain a foothold in Arizona if legislation advancing through the Arizona Legislature becomes law.

HB 2379, a bill by state Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, would prohibit a city from mandating that a hotel participate in a program that would require it to accept a housing voucher in exchange for housing someone in an unoccupied guest room.

“I think that kind of draconian policy, to force hotels and motels to accept these vouchers, however nobly thought out it might be, would decimate our tourism and lodging industry,” Gress said about the L.A. proposal as part of his testimony during a hearing in the House Government Committee.

Gress said his bill tells Arizona cities that they cannot force hotels in their community to adopt this type of “woefully misguided policy.”

The L.A. City Council voted down a proposed ordinance to implement the policy, but instead voted unanimously last August to refer the question to voters on the March 2024 ballot.

“We want to protect our tourism and lodging. We want to protect property rights. If a motel or hotel wants to voluntarily enter into an agreement with a city or town to do something like this, it should be up to them,” Gress said.

Supporters of Gress’ legislation include the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Critics of the L.A. proposal argue that the proposal unfairly places the burden of addressing homelessness on hotel owners, who are already struggling with the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also raise concerns about safety and liability issues for both hotel staff and guests.

AHLA President and CEO Chip Rogers was firm in his organization’s opposition to the L.A. proposal.

“It’s a terrible idea anywhere,” Rogers said. “The facts are very clear: the homeless population has people with mental illnesses somewhere in the 25-30% range. Those people need help and hotel workers are not trained to deal with that.”

AzLTA Vice President of Government Affairs Nicole LaSlavic said the Arizona tourism sector is poised for a major post-pandemic recovery, but it can’t risk costly government mandates.

“We appreciate Rep. Gress for getting ahead of this issue and ensuring it doesn’t come to Arizona,” LaSlavic said. “Our industry is in the midst of its busiest time of year, as we welcome visitors to Arizona from all over the world. We have tremendous momentum, but forcing hotel owners to accept housing vouchers would short-circuit our recovery.”

The bill passed committee on a party line vote, with Republicans supporting the bill’s preemption of cities’ attempts to institute new mandates on hotels, and Democrats saying the bill was unnecessary at this time.

Craig Ruiz

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