Lawsuit Claims Homeless Residents at L.A. Hotel Forced School Closure

Credits: THE CITY - NYC News

In the midst of the Academy of Media Arts, signs of an active campus life abound. Projects adorn the walls, books are scattered on tables, and uneaten apples linger in the cafeteria.

What’s conspicuously absent, however, are the students – approximately 50 high schoolers from low-income Black and Latino families, compelled to navigate the aftermath of their private downtown Los Angeles high school’s abrupt closure on January 15.

The school, occupying the first three floors of the L.A. Grand Hotel, found itself in a precarious situation exacerbated by the building’s recent role as temporary housing for hundreds of homeless individuals since 2021.

School Closure (Credits: Urban Nashville Vacation Rentals)

Dana Hammond, the school’s founder, lodged a breach of contract lawsuit in January against the property owner, alleging that the influx of homeless residents compromised campus safety, leading to the abrupt shutdown.

In an interview, Hammond pointed fingers at Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, attributing blame for extending the city’s lease at the property for the Inside Safe interim housing program.

He cited issues like human waste, the smell of urine, outbursts from Inside Safe tenants, break-ins, and drug paraphernalia, all adversely affecting the school environment.

In response to these allegations, Clara Karger, a spokesperson for Bass, emphasized heightened security measures at the Grand, including increased fencing, on-site visits to address concerns, and collaboration with academy security personnel.

Hammond’s journey with the school, which originated in a South Los Angeles church, culminated in 2022 when he secured the L.A. Grand space, marking almost two decades of effort.

Despite a successful recruitment campaign boosting enrollment to 250 students, a subsequent mass exodus reduced the numbers to around 50. Hammond revealed his inability to meet the $100,000 monthly rent by mid-January.

Security reports compiled by the school and reviewed by The Times outlined incidents involving the hotel’s residents, including threats, indecent exposure, and break-ins.

Hammond argued that the presence of Inside Safe residents jeopardized students’ safety and emphasized the impossibility of housing them in the same building as a high school.

However, a closer examination of the academy’s history revealed issues predating the homeless presence. Operating as a Los Angeles Unified School District charter school for years, it faced scrutiny for academic performance, teacher background checks, and a high turnover of principals.

LAUSD records indicated that the academy failed to meet academic standards and underwent a transition from charter to private school in 2023.

Despite Hammond disputing these allegations, the school’s checkered history extended beyond the homeless shelter concerns. LAUSD did not respond to inquiries about its past association with the academy. In the midst of these challenges, the academy shifted from charter to private status.

In the lawsuit, Hammond claimed that the hotel owner assured the removal of homeless residents after the school’s relocation, a promise unfulfilled by Chinese billionaire Wei Huang, owner of the L.A. Grand Hotel.

Huang’s real estate company, Shen Zhen New World I, faced fraud and bribery charges, with Huang considered a fugitive after fleeing the country in connection with a corruption case involving former Councilmember José Huizar.

The lawsuit contended that Huang falsely represented the hotel’s future as a homeless shelter to Hammond and Dennis L. Smith, another plaintiff hoping to open a nightclub on the hotel’s roof. Representatives for Huang’s company declined to comment on the ongoing case.

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