Richard Close is no fan of tax increases. The land-use attorney is the longtime president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association and one of the leading voices of the “tax revolt” that brought us Proposition 13, the 1978 statewide ballot measure that drastically cut property taxes in California. He also was a central figure in the San Fernando Valley secession movement of the early 2000s.
When asked if he's ever supported a property tax hike, he thinks for a few seconds and says, “Probably not. And I’ve opposed many — even for police and firefighting.”
But Close has emerged as an unlikely supporter of Proposition HHH, a citywide bond measure on the November ballot that would raise $1.2 billion for homeless housing, to be paid back with a property-tax increase.
“It took a lot of soul-searching by me, since historically, I don’t support tax increases,” Close says. “I believe that the taxing agencies need to find money in their budget to solve a problem. But this is different because of the magnitude of the problem. There isn’t money sitting in a budget to solve this problem.”
According to a recent count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there are approximately 28,000 homeless people living in Los Angeles, routinely sleeping in either temporary shelters, their cars or on the streets. That's an 11 percent jump from January of last year. In L.A. County, there are nearly 47,000 homeless people. Encampments have become commonplace, seemingly underneath every bridge and freeway overpass.
A poll taken in June found that homelessness was the No. 1 concern for Angelenos. The question is, are they willing to pay for it? Proposition HHH needs a two-thirds supermajority to pass, thanks to a provision of Proposition 13, which Close helped pass.
“I think this is one of the measures that has the greatest likelihood of success, because it’s dealing with a problem that most people realize needs to be dealt with now,” Close says. “There’s universal agreement on the need to take action now.”
Well, not quite universal. Proposition HHH has a few outspoken opponents, such as Jay Handal, co-chair of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates Committee. He says he's all for a tax to pay for homeless housing but believes Proposition HHH is too thin on details.
“The city doesn’t have a plan,” he says. “A plan tells you what they're building, where they're building, how much it's going to cost. That’s a plan. This is not a plan. They’re reacting to the public outcry, but they haven’t figured out how to do it right.”
Indeed, Proposition HHH is rather vague, especially compared with L.A. County's Measure M, which has detailed exactly what transit projects its half-cent tax hike will pay for, and when those projects will be finished.
Triple-H, meanwhile, is more of a rough outline. The city will borrow $1.2 billion and use most of it to build 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing — housing complexes that include on-site social workers and mental health counselors (the services, at least in theory, will be paid for by the county, though they're still working out the details).
Some of the money will go to temporary homeless shelters, storage facilities, showers and other services for people still living on the street. And some of the money will fund affordable housing.
The bond will be paid for with a roughly .01 percent increase in property taxes. That means if you own a home with an assessed value of $585,100 (the median home value in L.A.), you'll pay an extra $58 a year, give or take.
“This is a fairly modest amount of money for what the expected benefit is going to be,” says Mike Shimpock, who's running the Yes on HHH campaign. “This is a proven system in the city of Los Angeles.”
The hope is that permanent supportive housing will actually save the city money. People with mental illnesses, living on the street, are expensive. They end up in jails and emergency rooms.
“This will potentially save the city hundreds of millions of dollars,” Shimpock says.
When asked about Close's support for the measure, Shimpock jokes, “Cats and dogs living together.” He adds: “His support shows that people from across the political spectrum are willing to embrace this because it’s the right thing to do.”