December 9, 2016
Some of L.A.'s wealthiest philanthropists and foundations are setting their sights on solving the city's most chronic social dilemma -- providing housing for those without it. But even the mega-donors can't tackle the problem on their own.

Los Angeles is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. If it were a country, its roughly $700 billion gross domestic product would rank it amongst the top 20 richest nations. From entertainment to aerospace to technology, the city is replete with high-earning industries and the wealth they create. More than 125,000 millionaires call L.A. home.

And yet L.A. is also beset by widespread inequity and poverty. Countywide, more than 44,000 people sleep on the street on any given night, according to 2015 point-in-time homeless counts, a 12% increase from the previous count two years prior. More than 20% of people are living below the poverty line. Most of the new jobs expected to be created over the next five years will require low skills and provide low wages. The wealth of non-white families is just cents on the dollar compared with white families.

Though these issues are well known by the city’s political establishment and civil society in general, solutions to these wide-reaching problems are elusive. Facing the challenge directly, some of the city’s most powerful philanthropists and foundations are putting their money into these issues, collectively granting hundreds of millions of dollars towards addressing the city’s most entrenched and intractable social quandaries.

“Los Angeles, and Southern California for that matter, is increasingly becoming a place of haves and have nots,” says Fred Ali, president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation. Since its founding in 1951, the organization has made nearly $1 billion in grants to Southern California non-profits, and recently refocused its entire grantmaking enterprise around addressing issues of equity in L.A.

Others are taking a similar approach. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has focused more than $90 million specifically on addressing chronic homelessness since 1990. The Annenberg Foundation has launched LAnSync, a partnership between philanthropists, businesses and academic organizations that works together to win major federal grants for civic projects. And the United Way of Greater Los Angeles has created a multi-foundation task force that’s raising hundreds of millions of dollars to address poverty, housing and homelessness across the county.

Of course, local, county and state governments are also involved in ongoing efforts to fund homeless services and provide shelter and housing. But many argue that the philanthropic community is using its deep pockets to kickstart bolder action – both on the streets and in government policymaking circles. ...