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Measure H: a voter guide for LA County’s homelessness prevention ballot measure

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A sales tax bump to pay for services and outreach

Los Angeles Tops The Country In Homeless Population Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Measure H, which Los Angeles County voters will weigh in on today, proposes hiking the countywide sales tax by a quarter-cent to pay for homeless services, including partnerships with cities to quickly find housing and case managers for people living on the streets.

It would also fund efforts to prevent people from becoming homeless, including housing subsidies and rental assistance for families.

The measure was added to the ballot by the County Board of Supervisors. If passed by voters, the revenue would fund a number of strategies for combatting homelessness approved by supervisors last year. Those strategies are largely housing-first, meaning they prioritize finding housing before moving onto providing other services, like job support and treating mental health conditions. Housing-first strategies have proved effective in other cities, most notably Salt Lake City.

Not surprisingly, the main hurdle to fully implementing those strategies has been money. If Measure H passes—it requires approval from two-thirds of voters—the tax increase would last 10 years, raising about $355 million annually.

The backstory

Los Angeles is in the midst of a housing shortage. The number of homeless residents countywide rose nearly 6 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. In the city of Los Angeles, the homeless population increased by 11 percent in the same time period.

Didn’t I already vote on this?

It probably seems like it. In November, LA County voters approved another (larger) sales tax increase—this one funding further development of the region’s transit network. Additionally, city voters signed off on a $1.2 billion bond measure funding construction of 10,000 units of housing for homeless residents. Neither measure, however, would fund the kind of homelessness prevention measures that the county has mapped out.

Arguments for

  • Simply building housing (as the city plans to do) won’t be enough to fully address the homelessness crisis.
  • Voter support for the November bond measure (it passed with over 76 percent of the vote) shows that LA residents recognize homelessness as a major issue and are willing to pay for solutions.
  • Successfully implementing the county plan could save money in the long run, given that, once housed, homeless residents are less likely to run into health or legal problems that put a strain on community resources.

“The county is already funding many of its homelessness strategies. But if it can’t fund them at a level that moves significantly more people from the streets or shelters into permanent housing, then we are never going to come close to alleviating the misery.”—Los Angeles Times editorial board

Arguments against

  • The county should find a way to pay for the plan without raising taxes.
  • The county’s list of strategies doesn’t include specific allocations for how funding will be spent, making it difficult for voters to know exactly what they’re voting for.
  • Another sales tax increase will put a strain on low-income families and the homeless, partly counteracting the measure’s positive effects.

“The Supervisors, Mayor Garcetti, and the City Council have told us that homelessness is their number one priority. If so, then the Supervisors need to find $350 million in the County’s $30 billion budget rather than hitting us up with yet another increase in our regressive sales tax.”—Jack Humphreville, writing in City Watch

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