City parcel tax for L.A.’s homeless aims to create 10,000 housing units in 10 years

By Gary Walker

Public relations is essential to politics, and a ballot proposition’s chance of success often lies in how it’s presented to voters.

To stem the tide of rampant homelessness, Los Angeles city ballot Proposition HHH asks residential and commercial property owners to fund a $1.2-billion general obligation bond that over just 10 years promises to create 10,000 units of permanent housing for the homeless and those at greatest risk of becoming homeless.

The parcel tax assessment would be $9.64 per $100,000 of a property’s value — $48.20 for a $500,000 home, for example — for each of the next 29 years.

Civic leaders and city officials say passing the bond is not just a sensible approach to creating sorely needed affordable housing, it’s a critical response to a growing crisis.

“[Proposition HHH] is an absolutely necessary part of addressing and ending homelessness in Los Angeles. Whether your concern is it’s a moral imperative or you’re fed up with [homeless] encampments in front of your home or school, the solution is to provide more housing,” Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin said.

And if the bond fails, said Bonin, two things will happen: “The number of encampments will continue to grow, and people will die on the streets.”

“This is a true game-changer,” said Andrew Gross, an affordable housing developer who is on the board of New Directions for Veterans, a Westside nonprofit that provides transitional and supportive housing for veterans with locations in Del Rey and Mar Vista. “There is no other initiative on the ballot this year that will make a difference in the lives of Angelenos like HHH will.”

Proposition HHH would convene a seven member committee to oversee bond spending, require audits by the city controller, and require that projects are approved before their funding is borrowed.

Opponents don’t think the bond will deliver as promised and dispute the estimate of 10,000 new housing units.

Jay Handal, a former West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council president who signed on to the ballot argument against Prop HHH, says supporters of the bond are not being straight with voters on what the measure can accomplish.

“The bond can only pay for capital improvements, not supportive housing. HHH is a lie the way that they’re presenting it,” Handal said. “My biggest problem with Proposition HHH is there is no real plan [to reduce homelessness].”

City officials say Los Angeles will only be able to create 3,000 units of permanent supportive housing over the next 10 years without the bond measure. The infusion of $1.2 billion would pay for an additional 8,000 supportive units and 2,000 affordable apartments.

Westchester community organizer Denny Schneider, who also signed the ballot argument against Proposition HHH, said there aren’t enough controls on bond spending.

“The biggest problem is it only addresses a massive infusion to be given to developers, with no criteria for how [the bond money] is going to be spent and where it’s going to be spent,” Schneider said. “There are no financial controls and no targeted locations identified.”

As an alternative to the bond, Handal advocates using existing funds for addressing homelessness to convert unused city, county and state properties into supportive housing. And if there isn’t already a structure on sight, he said, trailers can be brought in to provide immediate emergency shelter.

“This is a rush to make a fix because the citizens are angry at government for allowing Skid Row to franchise itself to every community of our city, especially Venice,” he said. “They’re not looking at short-term solutions. They’re looking at long-term housing.”

Gross, whose construction firm built the 124-unit Del Rey Square affordable housing complex on Culver Boulevard, said he’s seen up close the impact of moving people from the streets and into permanent housing.

“When you provide a basic need like housing, it can change people’s lives in all sorts of ways. I’ve seen it in their faces,” Gross said. “It’s not just about housing. … It’s about community.”

Under pressure from Venice residents who are increasingly frustrated with the growing homeless population there, Bonin said the question facing voters on Nov. 8 is quite clear.

“We have a very stark choice: Do we have housing or do we leave [the homeless] on the sidewalk? Do we have housing or encampments?  I think people understand that we are not going to solve homelessness by magic, wishful thinking, or by calling the cops,” he said. “We’re going to solve it by building more housing.

“It’s a once in a lifetime chance to solve a problem that has been with us for decades.”