By Ron Galperin
This election day voters are being asked to raise their taxes on a variety of measures, including a new property tax to fight homelessness. Measure HHH is a $1.2 billion city of Los Angeles bond that aims to build 10,000 new units of housing to get homeless of the street and into housing. This funding will also build housing to help keep those in danger of homelessness off the street in the first place.
While there is no one magic solution to address all of the challenges of homelessness, building housing is crucial. This election, we all have an opportunity to make a difference, and the future of our economy may very well depend on it. And the truth is we are already paying for our failure to address homelessness, so it’s much more sensible that we instead invest in solutions.
Consider the following: In Los Angeles County, the number of homeless Angelenos has increased by 12 percent over the last two years to more than 44,000. The LAPD estimated that it spent up to $87.3 million in one year on interactions with the homeless, not including costs incurred from patrol officers’ time. At least 6.6 percent of the Los Angeles Fire Department ambulance transports are for homeless patients, and 14.23 percent of those arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department are recorded as being “transients” or provided the address of a known homeless shelter when they were arrested.
There are also costs that fall on our libraries, our parks, and our Bureau of Sanitation, among others. According to a 2015 report prepared by the city administrative officer, the direct cost of this crisis to our annual city budget conservatively exceeded $100 million. Add to that the toll on our county social and health services, the toll of homelessness on business, tourism, economic development, property values and the desirability of Los Angeles as a place to live and to invest.
As controller of the city of Los Angeles, I am always focused on the return on investment: What is it going to cost— and what are we going to get for the money? The annual costs will start low and increase gradually — peaking in 2027. On average, however, the average annual cost to taxpayers over the 29 years the bonds are being repaid would be $9.64 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. That figures to a modest $32.87 a year on a home valued at L.A.’s assessed median of $341,000.
In addition, a study conducted by United Way concluded that permanent supportive housing — while not inexpensive — is 43 percent less expensive than leaving men and women on the street — and infinitely more compassionate. Our money is better invested in longer-term supportive services and bricks-and- mortar housing than in shorter-term bad-aid approaches. Crucially, Measure HHH will also establish a seven-member citizens oversight committee who will review annual allocation plans and require annual financial audits by my office, the city controller.
Another opportunity to leverage will be developing underutilized city-owned properties.
Already, the city has identified various properties throughout Los Angeles that are vacant or otherwise appropriate for much-needed low-income and homeless housing.
And last week my office launched PropertyPanel.la — which for the first time ever maps the 9,000 properties owned by the vity of L.A. Employing just a fraction of these properties for housing projects — with input from our communities — will help further stretch the monies generated by Measure HHH. And, creating quality projects can serve as a catalyst for overall improvements in our neighborhoods.
As L.A. city controller, it’s not every day I endorse efforts to spend more money. But Measure HHH is a reasonable and much-needed investment. It’s good for our budget, for public safety and for cleaner streets.
Most important, it will make an enormous difference in thousands of lives of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.
Ron Galperin is the Los Angeles city controller.