Business & Economy

$1 billion homeless bond measure set for Los Angeles's November ballot

File: Sylvia Welker feeds the pigeons on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
File: Sylvia Welker feeds the pigeons on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
Gloria Hillard for NPR

Voters in Los Angeles will be asked to approve a bond measure in November to raise more than $1 billion to pay for housing the city’s rising homeless population.

Of all the possible forms of funding for this growing issue, L.A. City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson told KPCC that the Council felt like a bond was the best financial route to take.

“It seemed like one of the better tools at our disposal, certainly as we were out talking to residents in the community  and stakeholders in Los Angeles — they certainly indicated that a bond was a good way to go,” he said.

According to Harris-Dawson, one advantage of the bond is that voters know what they’re contributing to when they approve it.

About 80 percent of the funds go toward constructing new buildings and revamping existing ones, he said. The difference between these and other forms of housing: these housing complexes would include in-house mental services for tenants.

“If there are particular tenants who need nurses to come and make sure they take their meds on time, you can get that,” he said. “If there are people who need job training assistance, they can get that. The services are connected to the housing, as opposed to the services being connected to the individuals.”

On its own, the bond would only pay for housing — but these types of projects involve a contract with the county to provide the additional services. Currently, the county shells out approximately a quarter of a billion dollars, resources which Harris-Dawson said are often used in an inefficient way. By having in-house services, he said, it eliminates the need for social workers to “chase” homeless people around the city, and it allows them to receive consistent treatment.

The remaining 20 percent of the bond works similarly to the affordable housing trust fund that the city currently has — which he said has always been underfunded. It would provide loans, grants and other subsidies to builders who want to build apartments, but don’t do it often because of the cost of land in Southern California.

“These loans become available to those builders, and they can build a building or other kinds of housing without charging rents that are inconsistent with the incomes of Angelenos,” Harris-Dawson said.

If voters are still wary come November, the councilman only has one thing to say:  “Roughly $40 a year to deal with the problem that all of us see everywhere — on freeway underpasses, behind malls and vacant lots and alleys — it’s a small price to pay to end the normalization of homelessness.”