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City Council seeks bonds for homeless

LOS ANGELES — In a show of solidarity, the City Council voted 14-0 June 29 to place a historic $1.2 billion bond on the November ballot to address the homelessness crisis affecting 28,464 homeless men, women and children in the city.

The funds will be used to build housing and other facilities for the homeless and create affordable housing for very low and extremely low income individuals, to prevent them from becoming homeless.

As the chair of the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee, City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, with Vice Chair José Huizar, led the unprecedented effort to create the city’s comprehensive Homeless Strategic Plan in February and introduced the legislation to place a bond proposal on the November ballot.

Council President Herb Wesson, with the support of  Huizar, Harris-Dawson, and other council members helped create the city’s first dedicated committee to address homelessness and heard the ballot measure as chair of the Rules, Elections, Intergovernmental Relations and Neighborhoods Committee, which Harris-Dawson and Huizar also serve on.

“Last year, the city took bold steps toward confronting the homelessness crisis,” Harris-Dawason said. “After allocating an unprecedented $138 million in one-time funding, the council will take another step toward dramatically decreasing and preventing homelessness.”

“Less than a year ago, the council promised action on homelessness,” Wesson said. “Today, after a robust public process, we deliver the fruits of our labor. Our council has built a reputation for refusing to shirk the big issues and I’m proud of the council’s drive to find creative solutions.”

“These are seminal and historic votes that we are taking to address homelessness, the moral dilemma of our time,” Huizar said. “We must end the sea of despair we see on our streets daily.

“By providing much-needed housing through this bond measure, L.A. is taking a huge leap forward in addressing homelessness, and we remain committed to continue working with our private, nonprofit, county, state and federal partners to maximize this funding with the supportive services that are key in addressing homelessness long-term,” Huizar added. “I thank all of our council colleagues for their unwavering support and now we call on the voters for theirs.”

The council action comes at a time when homelessness is routinely identified as the number one issue that the city is facing.

City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson talks about the $1.2 billion bond measure to fight homelessness the City Council voted to put on the November ballot June 29 with the media following the vote. He is flanked by Councilman Jose Huizar, left, and Councilman Mike Bonin. (Courtesy photo)
City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson talks about the $1.2 billion bond measure to fight homelessness the City Council voted to put on the November ballot June 29 with the media following the vote. He is flanked by Councilman Jose Huizar, left, and Councilman Mike Bonin. (Courtesy photo)

The city ballot measure will provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless and for those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, senior citizens, foster youth and the disabled. The funds also would be used to provide facilities to increase access to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment and other services.

Meanwhile, the county is pursuing options to fund its homeless initiative, which includes 47 strategies designed to “make homelessness rare and of brief occurrence.”

“[The initiative] needs approximately $450 million annually, including the need to create over 15,000 units of permanent supportive housing for those that have been on the streets for many years and have multiple chronic health conditions,” according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

“The county also has set aside $100 million in one-time funds to implement the 47 strategies… but we will need additional, ongoing annual funds,” county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.

On May 1, the Board of Supervisors adopted a motion by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to urge the state Legislature to let county voters impose a special half-percent tax on personal income above $1 million a year to fund programs for the homeless. Under current state law, counties do not have the authority to seek voter approval for such a tax.

Phil Ansell, director of the Homeless Initiative, said, “Of the available revenue option, the millionaire’s tax was by far the most popular with voters with 76 percent of respondents supporting it. Such a ballot measure would raise $243 million a year — about half of what the LAHSA said was needed annually to address the crisis.”

The county has conducted polls on potential county ballot measures that would generate ongoing revenue to combat homelessness, including taxes on the legal use of marijuana, taxes for parks, parcel taxes and combinations of various taxes.

“At this point the legislators have not acted on the county’s request for a millionaire tax and in that context, the county is pursuing the declaration of statewide emergency and it also conducted two additional polls to assess the electoral viability of other potential options,” Ansell added.

In June, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ask the state Assembly and Senate to urge the governor to declare a state of emergency in California due to California’s homeless crisis involving 110,000 people.  The resolution introduced by Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl also asked for a commitment of $500 million in one-time state funding to help the county meet its estimated homeless needs, according to Ansell.

So far, a petition drive to pressure Brown to declare the emergency has drawn almost 13,000 signers.

But Assemblymen Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, introduced House Resolution 56 to have a statewide homelessness emergency declared.

“My district includes 7,000 to 10,000 people that live on the street and those are priorities number one, two, and three,” Santiago said. “It is inexcusable to me that … 48,000 people live on the streets. We were determined to do something about it and we think the declaration motion is a step that elevates that conversation.”

“Homelessness is solvable if we harness the energy of all sectors of society and we treat this issue like the humanitarian crisis that it is,” Ridley-Thomas said.