After five years in the position, Peter Lynn stepped down as the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority last week, marking a major change for the agency responsible for address Los Angeles’ mounting homeless crisis. The resignation is effective Dec. 31.
Chief Program Officer Heidi Marston will step in as interim director after he departs.
“LAHSA is stronger than it has ever been, and I have complete confidence in our management team and our Chief Program Officer’s ability to lead the organization during this transition,” Lynn said in a Dec. 2 resignation letter to the LAHSA Board of Commissioners.
Lynn told the Los Angeles Times that he opted to leave the position in the wake of a two-month absence caused by an August auto accident, which Lynn said provided a fresh perspective.
It’s been a rocky five-year stint for Lynn. As executive director, Lynn was responsible for providing yearly presentations on the state of homelessness in Los Angeles County. While overseeing the agency, Los Angeles’ homeless crisis ballooned by a total 33% despite hundreds of millions of dollars in tax funds being allocated to the agency. The most recent homeless count found that homelessness increased by nearly 16% in the city and 12% in the county from 2018 to 2019. Skid Row saw an 11% increase.
In his resignation letter, Lynn noted a need to continue a push for affordable housing as a way to help curb homelessness rates. In recently years, LAHSA and government officials have attempted to reposition housing affordability as the leading contributor behind the homeless crisis.
In June, Lynn told reporters that while the agency is housing more people than ever, the fact that homelessness has only increased alludes to an issue with housing affordability.
“If we’re able to house more people, and the numbers still leaned up, there’s a real challenge with people becoming homeless,” Lynn said. “We want to focus our attention and the community’s attention on those dynamics, and especially the dynamics of affordability.”
Lynn was hired in December 2014 after serving as the Section 8 administration for the Los Angeles Housing Authority. Under Lynn, LAHSA authored a first-of-its-kind analysis of how many new housing units and shelter beds the region would need to house the county’s unsheltered populations. Proposition HHH and Measure H, a $1.2 billion construction bond and a sales tax increase for homeless services respectively.
“No amount of outreach or shelter can suffice if we are not housing people to the utmost of our resource capacity and program skill,” Lynn wrote in his resignation letter.
In a prepared statement, Mayor Eric Garcetti heaped praise on departing executive, thanking him for his five years in the role.
“He served for five years, with dedication, in one of the toughest jobs — and I thank him for all he did to bring more resources to our most vulnerable neighbors,” Garcetti said in the statement. “I wish him for all his pursuits and am confident that his successor will continue our work to help homeless Angelenos get the housing and services they desperately need.”
The mayor’s sentiment was echoed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who noted the agency’s growth under its soon-to-depart leader. Under Lynn, the staff at LAHSA nearly tripled.
“This was never going to be an easy task,” Hahn said. “Nevertheless, he welcomed the challenge and his leadership of the agency was important, necessary and appreciated.”
Sarah Dusseault, LAHSA commission chair, also thanked Lynn for his service, while laying out the plan to ultimately hire a successor.
“We seek a leader who can deeply collaborate with our policymakers, public agencies and non-profit partners to accelerate our collective work to saves lives, address structural racism and combat the effects of the lack of affordable housing,” she said in a statement.
According to LAHSA, the search will be conducted nationally while Marston serves as the acting executive director. Marston previously served two years at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs across several roles and has been with LAHSA since February.
LAHSA is currently looking for volunteers for its 2020 homeless count, which will be held over three days in January.