Proposition HHH and the housing-first approach to ending chronic homelessness in LA

Angelenos care deeply about our city’s homelessness crisis. And we know what the solution is: Building more homes.

Last January, as part of the annual census of people experiencing homelessness, nearly 8,000 volunteers counted 58,000 people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County — a 23 percent rise over the previous year. More than 34,000 people were counted within the city limits, nearly three-quarters of whom were living unsheltered and almost one-third of whom were defined as chronically homeless. The 2018 homeless count begins on January 23.

This city is in dire need of more supportive housing, a model that combines low-barrier affordable housing, healthcare, and other supportive services to help individuals and families lead more stable lives. Supportive housing isn’t the solution for everyone experiencing homelessness, but it can be for those with chronic health or mental health conditions or people who have experienced chronic homelessness.

There are approximately 6,500 supportive housing units in the LA area, according to the Homeless Housing Gaps analysis prepared by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, but the City and County of Los Angeles have determined we need around 10,000 more in order to address chronic homelessness. The free market has not shown a proclivity to build or sustainably operate supportive housing — that’s a big part of why we see thousands of people on our streets who should be housed.

Fortunately, in 2016 City of LA voters approved Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion supportive housing bond. The vote marked the evolution of Los Angeles into a “housing first” city, a sea change in attitudes that should not be taken for granted.

The housing first approach tackles homelessness by quickly providing a permanent home that includes the critical supportive services needed to maintain long-term housing stability, such as mental and physical health support, crisis intervention, and connection to community resources. It is a departure from other approaches to homelessness, where we first provide services to people still living on the streets and then offer housing later.  

More than 77 percent of voters supported HHH, agreeing to increase their own property taxes by an average of $33 per year to fund 10,000 units of supportive housing over the next decade. Then in March of 2017, 69 percent of county voters approved Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax hike to raise an estimated $355 million annually for homeless services and rental subsidies.  Measure H is also a key source of operating funding for supportive housing.

Now it’s time to get to work. The City’s Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) is implementing HHH in close coordination with key City Council members and the mayor’s office. There is a citizens oversight committee that meets on a regular basis and monitors all activity related to the measure as well.

In June, the City Council approved the first round of HHH-funded projects at $74 million for 615 units, 68 percent of which are designated as supportive housing. These were largely pre-existing projects that needed additional funding to move forward.

From here, the HHH program will not tackle existing development projects in the pipeline but rather fund supportive housing “over the counter,” not through a competitive process but rather for all projects that meet funding requirements. This past winter, the mayor and City Council approved HCID regulations to better frame the implementation of HHH funding going forward, including:

  • HHH subsidies are made available for any project with at least 50 percent supportive housing (with half of that reserved for chronically homeless people). The other 50 percent can receive HHH funds if the units are restricted to resident who earn 60 percent of the area median income or less. Subsidies are also available for buildings with at least 25 units of supportive housing, for those units only.
  • People offered HHH-funded supportive housing units must come from the countywide Coordinated Entry System, an innovative service delivery model and housing prioritization tool used by most homeless services providers to identify solutions for people based on their vulnerability and need.
  • HHH-subsidized projects must meet the following criteria and secure the balance of funding needed from other sources, most likely housing tax credit financing:
    • $140,000 per supportive housing unit
    • $100,000 per unit restricted to 60 percent area median income or less
    • $80,000 bonus for supportive housing units available until June 18, 2018 to help compensate for the lack of “No Place Like Home” funding, which will become available in late 2018.

There will be three calls for project proposals each year, and the first call closed on December 22. The goal is to approve and fund 1,000 units of supportive housing a year, every year, for the next 10 years.

The taxpayers of Los Angeles are investing in permanent homes as the solution to chronic homelessness. But we’ll need more than new funds and a streamlined approval process to reduce homelessness in LA. Land availability and community support are both critical components to any project.

When supportive housing developments are proposed in different parts of Los Angeles, we will need community members who are courageous enough to say YES. YES to building permanent supportive housing in their community. YES to advocating on behalf of families, children, and the most vulnerable. YES to standing with our homeless neighbors who need the necessary services to live and thrive.

This is the beginning of the solution to ending homelessness across Los Angeles, and we should all be a part of it.

Why isn’t there enough affordable housing — of any kind — in LA? Read three new research briefs from Lewis Center scholars.

This article appeared on the UCLA Lewis Center blog.