Editorial: The only way out of homelessness is permanent housing. That’s why we need the HHH program

A multi-story building bordered by a fence and a colorful mural
A Proposition HHH-funded supportive housing project in South Los Angeles.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

As homelessness in Los Angeles has increased and become more visible, Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion homeless housing bond program, has become a convenient scapegoat for the city’s inability to get unhoused people off the streets.

Proposition HHH was passed overwhelmingly by Los Angeles voters in November 2016 to help finance the construction or acquisition of 10,000 units of housing for the most vulnerable homeless people in the city over 10 years.

More than five years later, only 1,142 units have opened. In the latest of his three reports on HHH, City Controller Ron Galperin has once again criticized the program’s slow pace of construction and the escalating costs, pointing out that the most expensive project has a price tag of $837,000 per unit. However, he did credit the Housing Department for getting 4,205 units into construction.


The city of Los Angeles has put a proposal on the ballot that could significantly reduce chronic homelessness: Proposition HHH, which would authorize $1.2 billion in general obligation bonds to fund the creation of 10,000 units of supportive housing for homeless people and affordable housing for those at risk of becoming homeless.

Oct. 29, 2016

Proposition HHH was never intended to house most of the homeless population of the city, nor could it. There were about 28,000 unhoused individuals in L.A. at the time the ballot measure was passed; the homeless population was estimated at 41,000 two years ago. Since Proposition HHH passed, the homelessness crisis has worsened in L.A. and in major cities across the country.

Galperin’s audit notes that even when all HHH-funded projects are completed, significantly more Angelenos will be experiencing homelessness compared with when the ballot measure was approved. There are things that can be learned from HHH to make the next construction program better. And more housing must be built if officials want to make a real dent in reducing homelessness.

The city’s permitting process has been a notorious slog, according to developers. City officials have sped it up, but it still needs to be improved, Galperin says in his report. Also, the program was sold to voters as the creation of apartment buildings for homeless people that would seamlessly and attractively blend into neighborhoods. It wasn’t about putting up trailers and tiny homes and temporary structures.

The voter-approved HHH housing initiative has been slow to bear fruit, but that’s not a good reason to take back money from it and spend it elsewhere.

Feb. 24, 2021

People decry how expensive the projects are, but HHH has never funded entire projects — whether they cost $400,000 a unit or $800,000 a unit. The total development cost of an HHH unit in construction, according to Galperin, is about $596,000 per unit. And the average subsidy is about $134,000 a unit. No project gets fully funded by HHH. It can take two to three years for affordable housing developers to cobble together multiple, often competitive, sources of financing — a challenge that market rate developers don’t face. The costs of construction and labor rise over time as developers work on getting their financing.

To avoid the high cost of private land, there’s been a push to find available land owned by government agencies to build on. But those public lands often come with requirements that push up costs. Some of the most expensive projects, according to L.A. Housing Department General Manager Ann Sewill, are on land owned by Metro or the city, which require community amenities such as more parking, commercial space and lower density for more landscaped open area.

To be competitive for financing through the cap and trade program, projects promised to include water conservation features, such as gray water systems, and greenhouse gas reduction measures, such as bus shelters that offer shade, to encourage ridership.


Those features may be beneficial to city residents, but they drive up costs. Galperin and his fellow elected leaders at the local and state levels could help reduce costs by advocating for removing some of these requirements from homeless housing developments. If leaders want extra parking, open space and other amenities, they should fund them separately, not add to the already-pricey cost of essential housing.

A few years ago, when it became clear how expensive conventional projects were, the city set aside a chunk of HHH funds for innovative projects that could be built cheaper and faster with prefabricated materials. The city is also using some of that money to purchase hotels, motels and empty apartment buildings to convert into housing. These are approaches that could be used in the future to deliver less expensive housing faster.

Galperin has recommended reallocating money from expensive HHH projects that haven’t received their funding. He has suggested spending more on shelters and temporary housing. That’s the wrong response. Although the money could legally be spent on shelter, it was intended for permanent housing, and that’s the better investment.

The goal of Proposition HHH remains the right one for now. The North Star should not be getting enough shelter beds so the city can sweep people off the streets. It should be about getting enough housing so people can move off the streets for good. HHH is about providing thousands of real homes that would integrate unhoused people into communities and transform them from homeless people into people with housing.