On June 12, 2016, Los Angeles County called for a state of emergency declaration in reference to California’s homelessness crisis. The declaration was an attempt to elicit the attention of Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislation in an effort to elevate the issue to a higher position on the Governor’s list of priorities. Los Angeles County had simultaneously been pushing for a millionaire’s tax to fund housing and services for people on the streets, so the emergency declaration freed up additional state resources to help fund these programs.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority determined in July of 2016 that, in the city alone, 46,874 people experienced homelessness, a nearly 6 percent increase from 2015. It is hard to imagine, but the number for those at risk of becoming homeless in LA is far greater than that. As Adam Murray describes in a Los Angeles Times article, “It’s like we’re trying to rescue the drowning from a sinking ship. We need to plug the leaks and soon.” How is it that we are planning to plug these leaks?
The answer is Proposition HHH: a ballot measure that will provide the funding and infrastructure necessary to reverse the trend of chronic homelessness in Los Angeles. Proposition HHH will be presented on the November 8th Los Angeles ballot.
The measure is not without flaws. There is little information about who will oversee spending, determine who qualifies for the new housing units, or have the responsibility for coordinating the logistical details of where and when the new buildings will go up. As iterated by Mark Ryavec, the President of the Venice Stakeholders Association, one of the arguments against Proposition HHH is that it unfairly taxes property owners who have purchased or made renovations in the past three years, but not renters. However, property owners have historically raised rents when their property taxes have gone up, in which case renters would be subsidizing this new tax for the property owners. Although this may not apply to all renters, and thus could be deemed an “unfair” policy, it still alleviates some of the burden from new property owners.
The biggest criticism of Proposition HHH is that none of its funds will be used to provide tenants with supportive services, such as adequate healthcare and mental health services, employment services, and case management. However, according to Chris Ko of the United Way, Proposition HHH will leverage Los Angeles County as well as private providers to offer those services. It has even been proposed within the measure that developers must have services aligned with housing in order for new housing for the homeless to be approved. Because Proposition HHH aims to house the chronically homeless, supportive services will likely be necessary to ensure these individuals do not end up back on the street. “Chronically homeless” individuals have, by definition, experienced a significant amount of time without housing: as a result, they oftentimes struggle to adapt to their own living space, and feel more comfortable in their prior situation. Additionally, many require mental health or substance abuse treatment, and will not be able to adequately care for themselves or their housing units without this care.
Ryavec has called the measure a “panicked” move by the city in response to the severity of the homeless crisis, explaining that that the measure is inadequate because buildings, which he calls “Taj Mahal structures,” will take nearly three years to construct. He explained that, in accordance with the Jones settlement, current individuals experiencing homelessness will remain on the streets, since the LAPD cannot legally remove them (this would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment). He proposes that instead of Proposition HHH, the city should allocate its own funds to renovate older buildings and motels and turn them into shelters and housing units. While Mark’s suggestions are valid and insightful, it is unclear whether this strategy, with the funds suggested, will provide enough adequate housing to solve the crisis. Proposition HHH, on the other hand, is certain to motivate contractors, the county, and the city to collaborate and in the long run to solve all of the issues that are encompassed in LA’s homeless crisis.
Action must be taken now — we cannot afford to wait for the perfect timing or the perfect plan. The nearly 47,000 people who are currently homeless in the city necessitate a response like Proposition HHH, “panicked” or not. Passing this ballot measure will not eradicate homelessness in Los Angeles, but it is a starting point that forces both the public and California government to recognize the severity of the issue. This is desperately needed to begin to address the tens of thousands of people in Los Angeles who are without a place to call home. If you care about ending homelessness, start by voting yes to Proposition HHH.
The following article was an Op-Ed submitted by three IVY members — Danielle Crowe, Theresa Hoey, and Alexandra Montano — on the upcoming Los Angeles ballot measure, Proposition HHH. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of IVY.