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L.A. officials launch campaign for homeless housing bond measure

Homeless resident of New Genesis housing development on skid row listens as Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city officials launch a campaign to build support for a $1.2-billion homeless housing bond measure.
Homeless resident of New Genesis housing development on skid row listens as Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city officials launch a campaign to build support for a $1.2-billion homeless housing bond measure.
(Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council members on Monday kicked off a campaign for an unprecedented $1.2-billion bond measure on the city’s Nov. 8 ballot that would develop homeless and affordable housing.

“We stand at the precipice of what I think will be the beginning of the end of homelessness as we know it in the city of Los Angeles,” Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, chairman of the City Council’s homelessness and poverty committee, said in the courtyard of New Genesis, a skid row homeless housing project.

The measure, Proposition HHH, is designed to finance 8,000 to 10,000 units over 10 years for chronically homeless people, including veterans, seniors and foster youth. It requires approval from a supermajority, 67% of city voters, to pass.

The bond would triple the city’s annual output of permanent supportive housing, which includes counseling, substance abuse treatment and other services, for its 28,000 homeless people. It would also be a boon for architects and builders.

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The HHH campaign committee, called End Homelessness in L.A., reported last week that it received $25,000 from Planning Architecture Engineering Alliance, a firm in downtown, and $10,000 from Thomas Safran & Associates, a West L.A. developer who recently built housing for homeless seniors and veterans in Glendale and Del Rey.

The bond proceeds will be split, 80% for homeless housing and 20% for affordable housing, aimed at people at risk of landing in the street, said Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.

The city historically has had limited involvement in financing housing, but the spread of encampments in many neighborhoods in recent years made homelessness a potent political issue. Political analysts, however, said passage of Proposition HHH could be a tough sell.

The measure joins a crowded ballot that also includes park and transportation taxes. It would require the city to acquire hundreds of parcels, from unused parking lots to old motel sites, and get them quickly through the planning process. Bonds typically fund construction or land acquisition to benefit the general public; housing for homeless people will largely pass or fail as a humanitarian gesture.

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“Being homeless takes you away from being human,” Silvia Hernandez, a formerly homeless skid row resident who now lives in permanent supportive housing, said at the campaign launch.

Opponents of the bond measure have argued it would be quicker and cheaper for the city to rehabilitate derelict residential or commercial buildings, or pay down rent vouchers for homeless people.Officials have estimated each unit of permanent supportive housing would cost $350,000 to build; bond supporters say the city’s money would be matched 3-to-1 by state, federal and private money.

Critics also say housing alone won’t solve the city’s homelessness crisis without accompanying services, which the bond money legally cannot cover. Los Angeles County officials have tried and failed to get several homeless service measures on the November ballot, including a “millionaires tax.”

“Gov. [Jerry] Brown blocked that,” Harris-Dawson said outside the kickoff news conference. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has said he will try again for the March ballot.

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The city has tentatively designated 12 surplus properties to sell or develop for homeless housing. Santana said those plans can continue with or without the bond money because the land is free, bringing the cost per unit down substantially.

gholland@latimes.com

Follow me for homelessness news on Twitter: @geholland

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