A group tasked with guiding Los Angeles out of the county's homeless crisis came close to consensus on key strategies Thursday.
At issue is Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax hike passed in March, which kicks off in July and is expected to generate $355 million annually for a decade to go towards combating homelessness.
With those funds, officials have promised to house 45,000 individuals and families in the next five years and prevent another 30,000 from becoming homeless.
But how to accomplish those goals? That's the question before a 50-member panel of county agency leaders, homeless services providers, faith leaders, and formerly homeless individuals. The group's been meeting for the last couple months and on Thursday, about 80 to 90 percent of them agreed on the biggest proposed investments for the first three years:
- Nearly $260 million towards paying rent for people who are currently homeless or on the brink, mostly in the form of short-term rental subsidies that expect people to take over the rent after months or a couple years;
- As much as $300 million in emergency housing, like homeless shelters with on-site services designed to move people into permanent housing;
- $166 million in outreach and coordination services, which covers everything from workers who approach people on the streets to try to get them into services to workers who help find rentals for people who are on the streets, but can afford their own rent;
- $124 million for services aimed at keeping people in housing once they're housed.
The county's resolve on tackling homelessness, and the city of L.A.'s newly passed $1.2 billion bond towards constructing housing for homeless, comes at a time when the federal government, traditionally the funder of social services and housing assistance, is looking to scale back its role. President Donald Trump has asked the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services to drastically cut their budgets.
While the group needs to be cognizant of that context, said Phil Ansell, director of the county's homeless initiative, the group also can't be paralyzed by funding cuts that may or may not happen.
"We need to be bold in taking advantage of this opportunity in making the most of the Measure H revenue to combat homelessness across the county," he said.
The group has one remaining scheduled meeting, next week, before submitting its final recommendations—along with outlines of any disagreements among the group— to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. The board is expected to vote on the recommendations in June.
Should the current recommendations hold, the group has calculated the investment will place over 34,000 people in permanent housing in the first three years, with thousands more receiving other types of help.
Some contentious decisions remain.
The biggest: what to cut to raise more money for supportive services, which the group agrees needs more than its requested amount of funding.
There's also the question of whether to devote a requested $45 million over three years to developing and preserving affordable housing within L.A. County. The debate is whether L.A. County's Board of Supervisors, which created the affordable housing fund in 2015, should use its own money or some other source to replenish the fund.
The county promised, when Measure H passed, to use the money as a way to enhance services for homeless, not "supplant" anything the county was already doing.
"What's being proposed now is that we're going to take this preexisting commitment, before anyone had heard of the letter 'H' ," said Greg Spiegel of the Inner City Law Center. "And saying, 'oh! that's come along, we're going to use it to fill this prior obligation,' instead of using it to expand."
Similar concerns have been raised about the commitment of the City of L.A., which did not renew funds for homelessness added last year in Mayor Eric Garcetti's budget proposal for the coming year.
Both the county's Chief Executive Office and the mayor's office say those monies were added in prior years as start-up costs with the idea that down the road, something like Measure H would be needed to sustain them.
"The Board of Supervisors was courageous because they took one-time money and said, go ahead and do what's needed in the system and start things that would be difficult to terminate," Ansell said in the county's defense.
Another unsettled item is a $1 million annual request from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to fund six deputy sheriffs, a sergeant, and a lieutenant specifically devoted to homeless outreach efforts. The department has also requested that a similar amount be set aside for adding officers to do outreach in areas not covered by the sheriff's department.
Some in the room, however, were reluctant to use any Measure H funds towards public safety agencies, which already receive about 30 percent of the county's $30 billion budget.
"Can that not be a contribution from the sheriff's department to this effort, considering the size of our public safety budgets," said Chris Ko of the United Way.
Sheriff's Chief Jim Hellmold defended the proposed law enforcement dollars.
'There are areas that we know that are concentrated with homeless individuals not in a law enforcement capacity really should not be contacting," he said. "In fact they're hiding even from subject matter experts."
Also on the table is a program at the Department of Children and Family Services that would expand a pilot that provides an apartment and temporary rent help to parents whose children are in foster care because their parents are homeless. DCFS has requested $12 million to serve up to 800 families a year for three years. The agency said it would then use the cost savings from getting kids out of the foster care system to fund the program going forward.
Another item still to be settled is whether to put $10 million into a "housing innovation" fund that would provide seed money to experimental ideas for housing homeless. (Think "tiny house" fad.)
The final group meeting is scheduled for May 10 at 1:30pm at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles.