June 15, 2016
The first step in combating homelessness in Los Angeles is coming up with an attack plan. Both the city and county have done that. Now comes the even harder part — finding the money to carry those plans out. In recent weeks, the city and county have proposed a variety of possibilities for that too and are now winnowing down their options.
While city leaders consider putting a bond measure on the November ballot, the county Board of Supervisors has focused on a measure to tax millionaires. But in order to levy California’s first local income tax, the board needs state approval. Despite the support of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and full-court lobbying in Sacramento by the county supervisors, that measure remains a very long shot. (Even if the Legislature grants approval, the tax would also have to be voted on by the people in November.)
More promising is a proposed $2-billion state bond measure to fund construction of much-needed housing for mentally ill homeless individuals. This is a smart proposal aimed at housing some of the most vulnerable homeless people in the state. The “No Place Like Home” initiative is expected to come up as part of the state budget package this week, and legislators should approve it. This should be a high priority for Democrats and Republicans alike. Homelessness is not a partisan issue. It affects all communities across the state.
But what state legislators should not forget — especially if they rebuff L.A. County’s request for authority to levy its own income taxes — is that the initiative can be used only for housing. It wouldn’t provide any funds for the multimillions of dollars in services needed by the people who would get the housing. And in fact, counties wouldn’t be allowed to tap into the bonds for money to build housing unless they proved that they could provide such services, which range from therapy and addiction treatment to job counseling and case management.
Although L.A. County officials are confident that they can already afford to provide services to accompany housing for mentally ill individuals, state legislators should allocate enough money to meet those needs statewide. As costly as it may be, housing construction is a one-time expense. But if newly housed people are to thrive in their new homes, they will probably need services for years to come.