Later this year, Los Angeles voters will have an opportunity to bolster funding to address the homeless crisis—provided a ballot measure is approved in November.
Paperwork has been filed by “United to House LA” to gather signatures to include the ballot measure which seeks to tax property sales of $5 million or more. The idea is based on property sales in the city from 2019 through early 2030 of which proponents estimate the proposed tax would affect about 3 percent of all real estate transactions. By focusing on the city’s wealthiest buyers and sellers, the measure could secure an estimated $800 million in new revenue each year.
“It’s about targeting millionaires and billionaires who have not been paying their fair share in taxes,” said Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance For Community Transit-Los Angeles. She’s a member of the coalition supporting the ballot measure. Proponents believe the idea can address the “crisis that all of us see and feel every day in Los Angeles,” Raymond explained.
If successful, the money could be directed to 26,000 new housing units over a decade. The housing would ideally be created through a mixture of new construction and repurposing existing buildings city wide. Other funding may go toward homeless prevention strategies via programs like emergency rent relief, income assistance for seniors and disabled tenants, and even legal aid to renters facing eviction.
About one-fourth of the money would seek to fund projects through the sale of state and federal low-income housing tax credits, similar to how Proposition HHH works. Roughly one-third of the funds could theoretically be spent on turning existing buildings into homeless housing, through purchases, master leases and renovations.
Last month, a couple dozen homeless, workers’ and tenants’ rights groups gathered downtown with labor unions and affordable nonprofit organizations to push for the ballot measure. A unique aspect of the initiative is that it was written by homelessness and housing experts–and not by politicians.
“We have a crisis-level shortage of affordable and supportive housing in Los Angeles,” said Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance. “Without addressing the root causes of homelessness, we are doomed to remain frozen in the current status quo.” Suh pointed to the increase in housing prices which has outpaced wages and inflation. Residents, she said, not only in Koreatown but citywide, are struggling to balance housing costs with other financial necessities.
The proposal would levy a 4-percent tax on the real estate transactions, with a projected 5.5-percent tax kicking in for sales above $10 million. Other cities have passed similar “documentary transfer” taxes, including one in Culver City in 2020. LA voters have passed billions of dollars in new funding to address homelessness through various city and county efforts such as Measure H in 2017.
The results are a mixed bag, according to Stan Smith, president of the Greater Los Angeles Realtors Assn. He doesn’t see how the idea will work. Proposition HHH, for instance, won overwhelmingly in 2016 with a goal of constructing 10,000 new units of permanent supportive housing. A 2020 audit from the City Controller’s office found that some 80 percent of the proposed units remain either incomplete or are merely in the planning stages.
“Increasing taxes on real estate transactions sends the wrong message as it further increases the already high cost of housing in the region without addressing the core issue–that we are still in a housing production and affordability crisis,” Smith said.
Twenty-two percent of LA families make less than $25,000 annually. Forty-two percent earn less than $50,000 per year. Wages have fallen far behind the cost of living; the pandemic has made things worse with regard to housing instability among the city’s lowest-paid workers. The Economic Roundtable released a report last year predicting that Los Angeles is projected to witness an 86-percent increase in chronic homelessness by 2024 resulting from the pandemic.
“Homelessness and the housing crisis are at the top of mind for angelinos,” Raymond said, “but we haven’t seen our local government take the immediate and bold action that is needed. [The] ballot measure will address homelessness by keeping people in their homes and dramatically increasing the supply of housing that is affordable for Angelinos.”
The workforce to build the housing will draw on Los Angeles residents from various communities. The initiative has the backing of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council which is banking on the prospect of generating middle-class careers for the proposed workforce in noting that wage inequities are “at the root of the housing crisis.”
Further, the coalition believes that when the city has enough affordable housing for families, Angelinos can reside safely in their communities, workers will be employed closer to home, and commute times and traffic snarls will be decreased.
“The average waiting time for a family to find and be granted affordable housing can stretch out over five years,” said Maritza Cruz, housing organizer for Los Angeles Community Action Network. “We must invest in housing programs that will make our city better.”