Politics

Should residents help pay to fix LA's homelessness problem?

A man walks beside a row of tents for the homeless in Los Angeles, Califorinia on May 12, 2015.
A man walks beside a row of tents for the homeless in Los Angeles, Califorinia on May 12, 2015.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

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For months, the Los Angeles City Council has been staring down the price tag to fix their homelessness problem – $1.8 billion dollars over the next ten years.

They are now turning to L.A. voters to find that money. Their plan is to put a tax initiative on the November ballot. If at least two-thirds of the city's voters approve a new tax, the city will have a sustained funding stream for services and housing for the homeless.

But what kind of tax will it be? Council members are considering either a $1 billion bond to be paid back over 10 years or a parcel tax aimed at generating $80 million a year. In the coming days, the council must decide which tax to put on the November ballot.

Councilman José Huizar has championed authorization of the bond to build housing and permanent support services for the homeless. He said it's the cheaper of the two options, and would cost property owners about $50 a year. 

His spokesman, Rick Coca, said putting bond revenue toward this kind of goal is unorthodox in city politics. Usually, Coca said, bonds go towards "direct benefits," projects like street improvements and other tangible services. Putting bond money towards housing efforts for the homeless is a little more nebulous, he said, and thus, out of the ordinary. 

He said in recent polls taken by City Council, L.A. voters named homelessness as their top policy concern. 

"Who knows when we will see the public appetite so high for us to address homelessness [again]?" Huizar said. "We've gotta take advantage of this window of opportunity and move swiftly, move in November, and provide our homeless individuals with the services they deserve."

Huizar said the council will likely decide Tuesday on which measure to present to voters on the November ballot. After that happens, it will need the support of two-thirds of L.A.'s voters to pass. 

This story was edited on 6/21/2016 to correct how much the bond would cost property owners. It was corrected to read "$50 a year," not per month.