L.A. votes to spend $1.2 billion to house the homeless. Now comes the hard part

Los Angeles voters’ overwhelming approval of a $1.2-billion bond measure to build housing for the chronically homeless left city officials facing the question Wednesday of how to show progress on a long-term solution to the region’s intractable street homeless problem.

With all precincts reporting, Measure HHH had secured 76% of the vote, well above the 66.66% threshold needed to pass.

After years of ineffective efforts to stem tent encampments that now are spread across the city, the bond measure is an ambitious approach to achieve a lasting solution, but won’t produce immediate effects.

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It is designed to spur the construction of about 1,000 apartment units a year over 10 years. The time required to acquire land, obtain approvals and build the units means that the earliest any would be ready for tenants is likely to be three to five years from now.

Yet, even before the votes were counted Tuesday night, supporters of the measure acknowledged the importance of producing results that voters can see.

“We need to seize this opportunity to make good things happen,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said at a victory party Tuesday night. “It is very, very important that we do this work in a way that the voters of the city feel they have done something good and going forward they will be rewarded by our results.”

In the hope of speeding up the five-year development timeline, city officials are offering 12 city-owned parcels for potential development.

"We're going to try to cut it in half," City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said Wednesday.

Forty-nine developers have responded to the city’s request for proposals to use the parcels.

Santana said those who have been accepted as qualified developers will be announced next week. The report will also include decisions on which of the parcels are suitable for apartment construction.

The list will be used to request bids, probably early next year.

The California Community Foundation, a major funder of the Proposition HHH campaign, is working with several developers to identify projects they can have ready to apply for funding, said Ann Sewill, the agency’s vice president for housing and economic opportunity.

Among them is PATH, a statewide organization that provides homeless services and develops housing.

While not committing to a specific timeline, PATH’s chief executive, Joel John Roberts, said projects are in the pipeline.

“PATH, as well as other housing agencies, have already lined up potential housing developments where the planning process could begin quickly," Roberts said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the city has other initiatives in the works to make a more immediate dent.

Those include setting aside funds to place homeless people into what is called rapid rehousing and increase the number of outreach teams in the city.

“Within the next three to six months, with all the work we’ve done, we will see an improvement,” said City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents skid row, the biggest concentration of homeless people in the nation. “And in two years … we’ll see a significant reduction in people living in the streets.”

Officials will still have to persuade neighborhoods to accept homeless housing sites, and opposition had already risen against proposed locations in Venice.

The measure approved Tuesday would repay the $1.2-billion bond with a new property tax averaging just under $10 for each $100,000 in assessed valuation over 29 years.

The owner of a $1-million property would pay, on average, $96 every year. The owner of a home with a median assessed value would pay about $32 a year.  

The housing will be reserved for the most medically vulnerable of the homeless, and will follow a low-barrier Housing First model, providing permanent apartments with counseling and other services for residents to work on addiction and mental health issues. 

The city is negotiating with Los Angeles County over a commitment to provide those services. Santana said he hopes the agreement will be signed this month.

To pay for the services and other measures to get homeless people off the streets sooner, the county Board of Supervisors is expected next month to place a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the March ballot.

Whether the the sales tax succeeds or fails, the county will follow through with its commitment, using existing budgets of county agencies, said Phil Ansell, head of the county’s homeless initiative.

Studies have shown that money spent on housing for chronically homeless people saves local government money that would be spent on ambulance, emergency room and police services for very sick people living in the streets.

“It’s one of the few investments in social problems that research — not conjecture not anecdote — shows will lead to an increase in people housed, a decrease in suffering and savings for the taxpayers,”said Philip Mangano, the former U.S. “homelessness czar” under President George W. Bush  . “That’s a trifecta you can’t get at Santa Anita.”

The spread of homeless encampments over the past two years proved to be a potent political issue for officials, who fielded angry calls and protests from residents in communities including Pacific Palisades, Venice and Highland Park. 

Huizar, however, said polling showed the voters were anxious not just to get rid of the tents and lean-tos but to relieve the suffering of those who live in them. 

“This is coming from a humanitarian point of view, it’s people wanting to help others,” Huizar said. 

“We earned our wings tonight,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said at a Proposition HHH campaign party Tuesday night. “We completely lived up to the title City of Angels.”

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UPDATES:

2:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reporting about plans to implement the measure and comments from county, city and nonprofit homeless assistance agency officials.

This article was originally posted at 9:25 a.m.

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