Today, approximately 50,000 people in and around Los Angeles experience homelessness according to the latest count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. The vast majority of these people live unsheltered on the streets in and around the city.
So what are city officials, city residents, and housing activists doing about this terrible problem?
In 2016, Los Angeles voted in overwhelming approval of an unprecedented plan to develop homeless and affordable housing for as many as 10,000 homeless people in L.A. This $1.2 billion bond measure became known as Proposition HHH.
Proposition HHH was designed to drive construction of 1,000 housing units annually over the next 10 years.
But today, the ten-year goal to build 10,000 units of homeless housing is in serious jeopardy and is beset by delays, losses in federal tax credit funding, and skyrocketing construction costs. Not a single HHH unit was completed by the end of 2018.
On January 16, 2019, two years and two months since the measure was approved, the Homelessness and Poverty Committee convened at a sparsely attended meeting in council chambers at City Hall.
Pete White of L.A. Community Action Network, one of only a handful of people who stood up to speak during public comment, referred obliquely to the FBI corruption probe of city officials, including Councilmen José Huizar and Curren Price, who was there when White used the phrase “the stench of corruption clouding the corridors of City Hall.” L.A. CAN has demanded an aggressive audit of HHH funds.
“The city has committed $311,672,673 of the $1.2 billion voter-approved bond money to 33 development projects to build a total of 2,133 units of affordable housing, including 1,643 with supportive services for the chronically homeless. It has broken ground on eight projects and approved construction loans for five more, which are slated to launch within a month,” says LAMag.
However, even if everything goes according to plan, no more than 239 of the affordable housing units are expected to be completed by the end of 2019, including 164 units for permanent supportive housing.
L.A. has been criticized for including the largest of these projects in their count, a 122-unit housing complex near the Vermont/Beverly Red Line stop in East Hollywood that is scheduled for completion in mid-December 2019.
The large complex, known as PATH Metro Villas, was already financed with loans from a fund managed by the housing department, but the city kicked in some HHH funds to help fast-track the building’s development.
But there are lots of other reasons for delays, including unresponsive city agencies, activist NIMBYs, and obstinate city council members.
In the meantime, as construction efforts drag on, costs continue to increase, and key sources of funding continue to diminish. Edwin Gipson, the director of finance and development for Los Angeles’ Housing and Community Investment Department, estimates that the federal tax credits on which overall financing for HHH projects depends lost about 25 percent of their value since the 2018 federal tax reform law went into effect. Housing experts claim the continued existence of Section-8 housing vouchers, which supportive housing developers depend on, is not guaranteed.
An analysis by Los Angeles magazine found that the first 25 projects funded by Proposition HHH have been delayed an average of 203 days past their estimated start date; the shortest holdup was 28 days, while the longest was 424 days.
As construction and other expenses continue to build, the city is looking to new sources of funding to make up the difference, such as a city fee on developments and the No Place Like Home program, which the state Legislature took out of mental health programs. Opponents of this plan include the Proposition HHH Citizens Oversight Committee, whose members caution against “throwing good money after bad.”
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson has been quoted as saying that HHH’s goal of 10,000 units in 10 years is still realistic. “I think it’s still realistic,” he said, “but obviously we have to change course really, really quickly.”
But with the numerous and ever-growing funding issues, the mounting expense of construction, and the consistent delays in all aspects of the building process, critics are wondering just how realistic HHH’s goal really is.
The city’s residents will continue to watch hopefully to see if Prop HHH’s goal is met; only time will tell at this point. The stakes couldn’t be higher, so cross your fingers.