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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS PROPOSITION 107 : Measure Provides $150 Million to House Homeless

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Proposition 107, which would provide $150 million to help house the homeless and other low-income people, was born more than two years ago at a meeting between Gov. George Deukmejian and legislative leaders.

Like so many major decisions in the Capitol, the question of how much to spend on housing for the poor was settled by top political figures meeting behind closed doors, not in a public forum.

The Republican and Democratic decision-makers sorted through bond proposals and determined which ought to go to the voters and how much money should be sought for each.

Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) went into the meeting with a proposal to spend $850 million on the problem of homelessness. Deukmejian, on the other hand, wanted even more to fix and expand the state’s crumbling system of highways.

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In the final agreement, Deukmejian won a place on the ballot for a $1-billion transportation bond measure, which later went down to defeat by just 545 votes out of nearly 5.3 million cast.

But Roberti, along with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), got the support of the Republican governor and GOP legislative leaders to place three housing measures totaling $600 million before voters over the next two years.

The first two measures, Propositions 77 and 84, won easy voter approval in 1988. The third part of the package is Proposition 107 on the June 5 ballot.

Roberti argues that the state must step in to help low-income people find decent housing because traditional federal support has dried up in the last decade. “Part of the problem of homelessness is that there haven’t been any programs,” he said.

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Proposition 107 would mean $100 million for an estimated 2,371 low-rent apartments, $25 million for 1,875 low-income, first-time home buyers, $15 million to buy and restore 1,000 residential hotel units, and $10 million to add 9,506 additional beds in emergency shelters for the homeless, according to the Senate Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

The bonds would be paid off over 20 years at a total cost to taxpayers of $295 million, according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst’s office.

Despite agreement among leaders of both parties and Deukmejian, several Republican lawmakers oppose Proposition 107, just as they opposed the two 1988 bond measures.

These avowed conservatives argue that government cannot solve the state’s housing crisis and that state and local governments have been largely responsible for a sharp rise in the cost of homes and apartments.

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“As a philosophical principal, government should not be in the housing business,” said Sen. Bill Leonard (R-Big Bear). “Most of the housing problems are actually caused by government,” he said, citing restrictive zoning requirements and building standards that he believes are largely responsibile for an escalation of housing costs.

“There’s an elitist, exclusive attitude in some communities,” Leonard said. People are too sophisticated to say openly that “we’ve got our home, we don’t want others in,” Leonard said. Instead they respond by increasing lot size and setbacks, and by tightening health and safety requirements.

Leonard, once a landlord himself, said that the poorest tenants, given a choice between a leaking roof or no roof, will choose a roof that leaks.

The lawmaker contends that unshackling the housing industry by eliminating restrictions would increase the supply of housing and bring down prices.

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But Roberti has little patience with Leonard’s argument. “He’s giving a philosophical answer to a pragmatic problem,” Roberti said. “If people are without shelter, you build shelters. You don’t have to have a political science course to know that.”

Among lawmakers, Roberti is the acknowledged leader in efforts to attack the state’s housing crisis. “This is my big issue,” he said in a recent interview.

“I live near Griffith Park,” Roberti said. “When I go home every week, I see unfortunate women pushing their carts into the park. It’s for real. We’ve got to do something about it. It’s a scandal. We have people who don’t have homes.”

“In Los Angeles County, 1,800 people a night are turned away from shelters,” Roberti said.

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Not only is Roberti helping housing advocates raise money for a Proposition 107 campaign, he also is carrying a bill that would ask voters to approve an additional $165 million in bonds for rental housing and emergency shelters in the November election.

Even if both Proposition 107 and the new measure are ultimately approved by voters, Roberti acknowledged that these bond issues will not eliminate the problem. And he worries that voters might not continue to support even what he regards as modest steps toward dealing with housing problems.

“We have a built-in aversion toward spending money on people who are not an integrated part of society,” he said. “That’s what we have to overcome. That’s never a small feat.”

Although arguments in favor of Proposition 107 in the official state ballot pamphlet focus on taking care of the homeless--just $10 million out of the $150 million would go directly to expanding the number of spaces available at emergency homeless shelters in the state.

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But backers of the measure say that the rest of the money--much of it earmarked for building low-cost rental housing and rehabilitating residential hotels--will have an impact on the problems of homelessness.

“Providing temporary shelter for someone who is homeless, if you think about it for a moment, is not the long-term response to the problem,” said Marc Brown, a lobbyist for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

“If there is a broken bridge upstream and people are falling through into the water, the immediate response is to help those poor people in the stream who are drowning--to pull them out, clothe them and give them hot food,” Brown said. “But you need to fix the bridge upstream, to look beyond the emergency needs.”

In their official opposition arguments in the ballot pamphlet, Leonard and Assemblyman Phillip Wyman (R-Tehachapi) point out that relatively little of the $450 million from the two 1988 ballot measures has been spent.

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However, Brown said that all of the money from Propositions 77 and 84 will be either spent or committed by next January.

He contended that a great deal more government assistance will be needed even if 107 passes.

“This is just a platform on which to build,” he said. “It’s not going to be the solution to homelessness. We’re looking at probably years of bonds on the ballot before we can declare the war is won.”

Brown is treasurer for the Housing Opportunities Mobilization Political Action Committee, which he said has already raised $80,000 to run the campaign for Proposition 107.

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The biggest backers thus far are the California Assn. of Realtors and the Construction Industry Advance Fund. Each has pledged at least $20,000 to the effort.

Leaders of the Yes on 107 campaign have also prepared a series of television commercials and hope to raise an additional $200,000 to purchase broadcast time before the election.

In the ads, such celebrities as comedian Bob Hope and Woody Harrelson of “Cheers” point out that as many as 250,000 Californians are homeless, including “single mothers with children, veterans, battered women, the mentally ill.”


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