DSA-LA Statement in Support of Measure H

DSA-LA's Housing and Homelessness Committee and Politics Committee recommend YES on Measure H for the following reasons:

  • Measure H is an important companion to Measure HHH, which passed overwhelming in November.  

  • If passed, Measure H will provide crucial supportive services to homeless individuals and those at-risk of homelessness for the entirety of Los Angeles County.Together the two measures will help to establish a housing-first model that comprehensively addresses homelessness in Los Angeles.

  • Although DSA-LA has concerns that the regressive nature of a sales tax disproportionately impacts low-income people, items such as groceries, utilities, transportation, prescription medications, etc. are exempt which mitigate some of our concerns.

  • Measure H is a critical opportunity for Angelenos to address our ongoing homelessness epidemic.

In November, a two-thirds supermajority of Los Angeles voters approved Measure HHH, which approved issuing $1.2 billion in bonds to build 10,000 units of housing for the city’s homeless people. The majority of these funds will go towards the construction of supportive housing geared towards chronically homeless individuals in the City of Los Angeles, with the remainder going towards affordable housing, shelters, associated infrastructure, etc. The debt on these bonds will be serviced through an increase in property taxes; by California law this means that HHH funds cannot be spent on homeless services or operations.

Measure H, which was placed on the ballot through a vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors, can be understood as a companion to HHH. A key difference is that Measure HHH will generate funds for housing for chronically homeless individuals in the City of Los Angeles, while Measure H will generate funds for homeless services and housing for homeless individuals and those at-risk of homelessness for the entirety of Los Angeles County. Funded through a quarter-cent increase in the county sales tax, if passed the measure would generate about $355 million per year over the next 10 years. For the average person, this will be approximately $1 per month. As with most tax increases in California, Measure H will require a two-thirds supermajority to pass.

These funds would be geared entirely towards services for homeless people, including those housed in the types of supportive housing constructed with funds from HHH. Services would include rental subsidies, mental health treatment, substance use treatment, legal services, and case management. Funding priorities have been laid out in the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative’s “Approved Strategies to Combat Homelessness,” viewable here. As Measure H proposes a “special fund” or “special use” sales tax, the tax revenue can only be used for homeless services and housing and the funds will not be placed in the County general fund.  A panel of representatives from city and county agencies, nonprofit organizations, homeless and housing policy experts, etc. will determine how the funds will be allocated, with opportunity for public input. Oversight of the spending will be conducted by a Citizens’ Oversight Advisory Board and an independent audit will be completed annually.

 

DSA-LA acknowledges that the funding plan for Measure H is inherently flawed because it depends on an increase in the county sales tax. Sales taxes are intrinsically regressive, because poor people have to pay a greater share of their income in sales tax in order to meet their basic needs. As such, the funding for Measure H will place a greater burden on LA’s poor than its rich. However, it is worth noting that many staple categories of purchase are excluded from sales tax in California, such as groceries, utilities, fuel, prescription medications, and so forth. This goes some way towards diminishing the regressive nature of the funding for Measure H. Nevertheless, we continue to have grave concerns about the serious shortcomings of California’s taxation methods and the undue burden they place upon the poor.

DSA-LA strongly supports the “housing first” model of combatting homelessness, whereby placing homeless individuals in supportive housing is made a top priority. Individuals are not expected to somehow independently attain sobriety or mental health stability while living on the streets, which traditionally has been required in order to qualify for housing services. Instead, they are housed first, and then mental health, substance use, and case management services are provided once they have the foundation of stable housing, in order to help them maintain that housing over time. However, it is vital to understand that “housing first” cannot be accomplished through half measures — e.g. “housing only,” where people are offered living spaces but no supportive services. Most individuals suffering from chronic homelessness became homeless due to a number of factors, and will struggle to sustain any housing offered to them unless the risk factors behind their homelessness are aggressively addressed. Measure HHH has been passed to provide supportive housing units; unless voters also approve Measure H we are at risk of a “housing only” model being mistakenly thrust upon the city’s homeless people, setting them up for failure.

This considered, DSA-LA is strongly supportive of Measure H. The fact that 13,000 of our neighbors are chronically homeless, sleeping in tents, in cars, or on sidewalks is unacceptable. We do not wish to live in a society that treats our brothers, sisters and siblings with such callous disregard. Many in Los Angeles like to pretend that homelessness and extreme poverty are somehow insoluble problems. But even a glance at countries with strong traditions of democratic socialism reveal this to be a lie. Creating a strong social safety net for all Americans would keep people out of poverty and essentially eliminate homelessness. DSA-LA is committed to fighting locally and nationally to bring about the types of social changes necessary to achieve a world where housing is provided to all as a fundamental human right. Measure H is a crucial opportunity for Angelenos to bring about this change.