L.A. County half-cent homelessness sales tax heads toward November ballot

FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2019, file photo homeless shelter from a storm passing over downtown Los Angeles at their encampment along an offramp to the 110 freeway. A federal judge has ordered Los Angeles city and county to move thousands of homeless people who are living near freeways, saying their health is at risk from pollution and the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
L.A. County voters will decide in November whether to approve a new half-cent sales tax for homeless services across the region. (Associated Press)

Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to send a measure to the November ballot that would double the county’s homelessness sales tax to a half-cent to fund housing and homeless services.

If approved by voters, it would replace Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax voters approved in 2017 that was set to sunset in 2027.

Read more: Los Angeles County supervisors endorse a spending plan for Measure H homelessness tax

The replacement measure — officially called the Affordable Housing, Homelessness Solutions and Prevention Now measure — qualified for the ballot last week after backers collected more than 390,000 signatures. Dean Logan, the county’s registrar-recorder, estimated that roughly three-quarters of them were valid, more than enough to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

On Tuesday, the board voted 4 to 0 to submit the measure to the ballot without making any changes. Supervisor Janice Hahn was not present.

“We’re nowhere near having enough housing for lower- or middle-income Angelenos,” Board Chair Lindsey Horvath said at Tuesday’s meeting. “There is no time to waste.”

The money from the tax, forecast to generate about $1.2 billion annually, would go toward affordable housing, mental health care and substance abuse treatment, among other homeless services. The measure would also require programs funded by the tax to conduct audits and set targets to ensure the money’s going to the initiatives most likely to get people off the street.

Supporters said at Tuesday’s meeting that they had learned from Measure H and believed this newest sales tax would stretch the dollars more effectively. It would also make the tax indefinite, repealable only by a future vote.

“The crisis that we have today is not for the lack of trying,” Miguel Santana, chief executive of the California Community Foundation, told the board. “This will provide long-term, systemic and accountable change.”

Faced with constituents furious over the lack of progress on the homelessness crisis, the county supervisors touted the successes of Measure H, saying it had infused the county with cash that prevented more than 30,000 people from becoming homeless and placed more than 100,000 in permanent housing.

“We have the receipts,” Supervisor Holly Mitchell said.

The measure is backed by a coalition of housing providers and labor groups, including SEIU Local 721 and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Yvonne Wheeler, president of the federation, told the supervisors she believed the tax would lead to more affordable housing for workers and better shield them from eviction.

No one spoke in opposition Tuesday, though some experts have predicted there could be anti-tax groups that come out against the measure.

“I want to remind you all that there is so much more work to be done to pass this in November,” Dexter O'Connell, a director with homeless service provider Safe Place for Youth, told the board.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.