Housing the homeless, L.A. style
Housing the homeless, L.A. style

Would You Pay More Tax to Solve the Housing Crisis?

Homelessness is up 23 percent and, according to one report, Los Angeles needs 550,000 new housing units to keep up with demand from low-income folks who could end up on the streets. The housing crisis, bolstered by low pay and high rents, has the attention of our elected officials, and voters have approved local measures, including a sales tax increase, as a way to provide some shelter.

Now a California assemblywoman says it's time for the entire state to pitch in and build some housing. After all, the crisis affects our urban hubs, from San Diego to San Francisco, and our rural communities.

Assemblywoman Anna M. Caballero represents the latter — Salinas — and is proposing legislation she calls the "California Middle Class Affordable Housing and Homeless Shelter" act. It would ultimately require voter approval for a quarter-cent sales tax that could generate $1.9 billion a year in revenue.

"Increasing tax is a real popular strategy," she jokes. "It's never easy."

The cash would make it easier for first-time home buyers to get a foot in the door, help build affordable apartments, and help get homeless people into shelters, she says. Amended legislation would probably add benefits for seniors who need housing or who are at risk of losing their homes, Caballero says.

"The average household earning $60,000 would see a total tax increase of $55 per year," according to a fact sheet for the proposal.

The legislation is thin on specifics for now, but Caballero says she would like to spark the reuse of sagging strip malls so they could include housing; she also says "infill" development, including the reuse of non-housing structures in dense parts of Los Angeles, could also be targeted by the billions of dollars the legislation would generate.

"You wouldn't need to get into a car" because shopping needs would be within walking distance, she says. "It's part of a new urbanist principle. The idea is that we want to be able to encourage communities to reduce the amount of time it takes to get projects built."

The sales tax rate in the city and counties of Los Angeles is 9.25 percent as of July 1. Some cities have higher rates. And that's before another homeless-boosting, quarter-cent sales tax, Measure H, goes into effect. But Caballero argues that this would be the only way to attack the housing crisis head-on.

She says Gov. Jerry Brown had indicated he won't support solutions involving bond measures or the general fund. "There's some voter fatigue for increasing taxes," Caballero says. "It's a hard sell no matter what."

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