Legislation to prohibit a city, county, or the state from mandating hotels and motels to accommodate the unhoused passed the state Senate last week and is awaiting action by Gov. Katie Hobbs. Concerned that hotel workers could be made to fulfill the role of social workers, the Arizona tourism industry is urging the governor to sign the bill into law.
Introduced by Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, HB 2379 was written to prevent similar programs already in place or proposed in California from gaining a foothold here.
Los Angeles voters next spring will decide at the ballot box whether the city will mandate hotels to accommodate the unhoused in exchange for vouchers when the hotel has unoccupied rooms.
Opponents of the L.A. measure have cited safety and wellness concerns since hotel and motel staff are not equipped with the resources or training to adequately help individuals who are experiencing homelessness, or to provide services related to mental and physical health.
In L.A. and in Arizona, stakeholders are working to balance the need for housing solutions with the limitations and rights of private hoteliers.
“People who work in the hospitality and leisure industry in these hotels and resorts are not equipped to provide the kinds of social services that people who are unhoused need,” Gress said during a committee hearing on the bill. He explained that, while hotels may be able to voluntarily contribute to the solution, pushing them into the human services industry was an inappropriate method.
Another California community is already experiencing the negative ramifications of providing hotel rooms to the homeless in exchange for government-provided vouchers.
Law enforcement authorities in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon last month announced the arrest of two convicted sex offenders who are accused of sexually assaulting a minor at a hotel where the two men were staying. The men were using a San Diego County taxpayer-funded voucher provided by a nonprofit group that works to place homeless individuals in available hotel rooms.
El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, an opponent of the program, says his city’s police department has charged 90 homeless people staying in hotels with crimes.
“This didn’t just come out of the blue,” Wells said. “We’ve been worried about this hotel voucher program for over six months now.”
Also last month, El Cajon police arrested another sex offender for a probation violation at a hotel where he had been staying thanks to the same county voucher program. The 41-year-old male, who was also in possession of methamphetamine, said the agency that provided him the voucher told him he could get $2,000 in vouchers every two weeks for up to two years.
Attempts by El Cajon to implement rules about how many voucher-users could be housed in one hotel were met with threats of a lawsuit from the state attorney general.
While there is a need for long term solutions, supporters of HB 2379 argue that other options ought to be pursued.
“We all want solutions to improve homelessness in our state and across the U.S., but forcing small business owners like hoteliers to shoulder that burden is not a reasonable or sustainable path forward,” Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association President and CEO Kim Grace wrote in a recent op-ed. She called on local governments and Hobbs to “take responsibility and lead” to fix the housing crisis.
State Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, said she supports the bill.
“I’d like to thank Mr. Gress for bringing this bill. I think this is very important. This feels like a takeover. To force private businesses to have to accommodate is not the American way,” she said.
The bill passed out of both the House and the Senate on party-line votes. Today is the last day for the governor to sign or veto the bill.
In addition to the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, the bill is supported by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.