Last June I attended a meeting where county homeless initiatives were discussed. At that meeting, one of the speakers said that we know how to eradicate homelessness in Los Angeles County; we just need a billion dollars to do it.
The meeting did not discuss strategy – just where to get the billion dollars.
I left the meeting quite disillusioned, as the plan seemed to center around spending a billion dollars to build homes for the homeless but did little to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
I travel frequently to downtown L.A., the San Fernando Valley and other parts of the county. As columnist Gary Horton lamented in a previous column, the number of homeless people continues to grow.
They live under freeway overpasses, they clutter the streets in downtown, and yes, some even live in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Here in the SCV we tend to deny the existence of homeless people. Many people I know say we cannot eradicate homelessness because the homeless are a perpetual part of our population, so we should not waste money on a problem we can’t solve.
Others say our taxes are already too high. Finally, some believe that providing services to homeless will attract more homeless.
In reality, L.A. County’s daily homeless population has increased from 38,000 in 2009 to 47,000 last year. According to the Los Angeles Times, about 1 percent of those reside in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The county’s daily homeless population is increasing faster than the general population, and nearly all who are currently homeless lived here in residences before becoming homeless.
I had the privilege of attending a meeting Jan. 31 hosted by The Signal’s Editorial Board at which Jerry Ramirez, a county analysist for the Homeless Initiative office, provided a very high-level summary of the initiative, a strategic plan approved by the Board of Supervisors last year.
The plan is comprehensive, and the county envisions a massive infrastructure to combat homelessness.
About 30,000 housing units are needed, and it will cost about $15,000 annually to provide services to residents of each housing unit. That amounts to an approximate $450 million annual cost to provide services.
The housing units will generally be funded through the issuance of bonds, such as the $1.2 billion issuance authorized by the city of Los Angeles and approved by Los Angeles city voters as Measure HHH last November.
The annual services provided to the homeless would be financed principally through proceeds raised from the passage of Measure H, a proposed 10-year, ¼-percent sales tax increase, which is the only item on the March 7 ballot in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Local governments, the United Way and numerous community and business leaders have lined up to support the measure. No opposition argument was filed for the ballot. Passage of Measure H requires approval by 2/3 of those who cast ballots March 7.
The tax is expected to raise about $355 million annually, which covers about 75 percent to 80 percent of the homeless services. It is unclear how the $95 million annual shortfall would be funded.
The program envisions employing 51 coordinated strategies, but the tactics for implementing those strategies wouldn’t be finalized unless Measure H passes. The accountant in me worries that we won’t know the true costs until the tactics are more fully developed.
Furthermore, a county agency with $355 million of immediate annual funding has the potential to rapidly become a bureaucracy that may not spend the funds effectively. Perhaps non-governmental not-for-profit organizations could leverage off of the county’s program to enhance it.
Measure H calls for an annual audit of the tax revenues collected and the amounts expended, with a citizens’ oversight advisory board.
A potential procedural shortfall is that amounts expended from sources other than Measure H revenues do not appear to be subject to these oversight procedures.
I suspect that SCV residents will pay more in taxes than will be spent in the SCV on homeless. That may not necessarily be bad because SCV homeless could be directed to services in close proximity in the San Fernando Valley.
The average household income in the SCV is around $85,000. If you assume that one-third of that amount is spent on taxable purchases, the average SCV household would pay about $70 to $75 annually in additional sales taxes if Measure H passes.
At the meeting I attended last June, the estimated cost of dealing with homelessness was put at $1 billion. Now it looks like the annual costs (exclusive of housing) will be at least $450 million a year. My guess is that it will end up costing considerably more.
Jim de Bree is a retired CPA who resides in Valencia.