MRT on Point

It’s Time to Answer the Alarm (part four)

Originally featured in the August 10, 2023 edition of the Praxis newsletter

By Mark Ridley-Thomas Ph.D.

For the last three issues of MRT On Point, we have discussed answering the alarm.

In the first part of “It’s Time to Answer the Alarm,” we delved into important reports on homelessness, looking at both the state and local perspectives. To really grasp and openly discuss our misunderstandings and flawed assumptions, it’s crucial to keep ourselves informed instead of pretending to have all the answers. 

In the second part, our focus shifted to outlining the top two consequential governing entities in Los Angeles, along with their key concerns, functions, duties, and how they work together in addressing homelessness. 

In part three, our most recent installment, we continued to hammer home the idea that everything hinges on available resources, thus our review of Measure H. While the strides we have made have been significant, the economic forces of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty have conspired against more successful outcomes. Let’s be clear – without Measure H, homelessness in Los Angeles would be more bleak.

While Measure H was largely focused on services and support systems, Proposition HHH had a different, but complementary objective. We should now turn our attention to a better understanding of that proposition.

Given what’s at stake and the efforts to address the housing crisis caused by low vacancy rates and high rents, it is important to ask the question: “What impact has Proposition HHH had?” As you may recall, Proposition HHH was adopted in 2016 as a part of LA City’s push to address houselessness, housing insecurity, and a brick and mortar safety net for the unhoused.

Proposition HHH was a plan that gave voter approval for a $1.2 billion housing bond to help address homelessness in the City of Los Angeles. The goal was to build 10,000 residential units where people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless could live securely. These affordable housing units would have a range of support; residents would be offered important services such as assistance with mental health issues, access to medical professionals, and treatment for various addictions. The cost of living in these units, including basic necessities such as electricity and water, was to be based on income.

When reviewing the rationale for Proposition HHH, the Local Housing Solutions’ case study offered the following key takeaways:

  • Collaborative teamwork between government bodies and nonprofit organizations;
  • strong support from the public and the political sphere; and
  • valuable resources to combat homelessness, connected to strategic and swift resource allocation that often necessitated bureaucratic planning.

It comes as no surprise that there has been a fair amount of criticism and disappointment regarding the productivity of Proposition HHH. We are seven years out since Proposition HHH’s passage. Question: “How many units have been built, how many are under construction, and where are they?”

According to the LA Housing Department (2022), Proposition HHH can take credit for the following results: 2,877 affordable housing units have been completed; 3,512 are under construction; 2,207 are in design.

By way of review, Proposition HHH (2016), a LA City bond measure, amounted to $1.2 billion over a 10 year period. Measure H (2017) amounted to $3.5 million over a 10 year period, distributed throughout the County, principally for services and subsidies.

The ULA Initiative (2022) is the most recent ballot measure to address the housing crisis. It is slated to generate upwards of a half billion dollars, exclusively for the City of Los Angeles, on an annual basis. To clarify further, The ULA Initiative is, “A one-time tax on luxury real estate sales over $5 million dollars to create affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and provide financial support for seniors in danger of losing their homes.” However, ULA is currently in litigation, and rather than make aggressive investments in building more affordable housing, the City of Los Angeles has exercised conservative fiscal management until the matter is cleared up in the courts.

The people of Los Angeles have stepped forward and supported these significant efforts. Now the question is, “What do we have to show for it, and how will we convince the electorate that more needs to be done; and further, that their help is needed?” That is the challenge before us.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of It’s Time to Answer the Alarm, at which time we will discuss current strategies to secure sustained funding streams to address this deepening crisis of homelessness.