The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an unprecedented $527.1 million budget for the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative in FY 2021-22.
The Homeless Initiative is Los Angeles County’s massive effort to expand and enhance services for people who are homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless, largely financed through Measure H. It is part of the vast safety net that the County provides to people experiencing homelessness, which also includes medical treatment at County public hospitals, direct benefits under the County’s General Relief program, and more.
The Homeless Initiative includes $454.8 million raised through Measure H, ¼-cent sales tax approved by County voters in 2017 to pay for homeless prevention, street outreach, supportive services and employment, shelter, and housing. The remaining $72.3 million includes $14.8 million in federal stimulus funding, $29.4 million in state grants, and $28.1 million from other funding sources.
“Addressing homelessness requires a multi-faceted approach and understanding that every individual’s housing journey is unique,” shared Board Chair, Hilda L. Solis. “This year’s budget reflects the County’s continued efforts to address the root causes of homelessness and the implementation of preventive strategies to keep residents housed, especially as we emerge from a pandemic that disproportionately impacted low-income Black and Latinx residents.”
“Our commitment to ending our homelessness crisis requires sustained investments in immediate and long-term solutions,” Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell added. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the disparities our unhoused residents face, which is why I am proud to support this unprecedented allocation of funding that will go towards evidence-based solutions and interventions that are needed more than ever before.”
“Every year, over the last four years, we have dramatically scaled up the housing and services necessary to re-house those who are experiencing homelessness, and to end the inflow into homelessness caused by skyrocketing rents and evictions,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “I’m very happy to see us increase the funding going into these efforts for a fifth year. This crisis was decades in the making, and every year we are committed to making more progress in building the system that will solve it.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger added, “As we continue to address the homelessness crisis, it is crucial that we consider the needs of all the cities and regions throughout the County. I am pleased to see the recommended Measure H budget allocates $5 million in funding to six Councils of Governments and member cities to support their own localized efforts to prevent homelessness and provide support for their most vulnerable residents. We must continue to work collaboratively with our cities and regions toward our shared goal of ending homelessness.”
Investing in Proven Solutions
Increased public investment, particularly from Measure H, has fueled a tremendous growth in the County’s homeless services system in recent years.
Since 2015, the system has doubled the number of people it can lift out of homelessness and into a permanent home every year. It has also tripled the number of people engaged by its street-based outreach teams. Compared to 2015, the system now has the capacity to prevent three times as many people from becoming homeless in the first place.
But while an average of 207 people exit homelessness every day in Los Angeles County, 227 more people fall into homelessness during the same period, largely due to economic factors, such as wages not keeping pace with rents.
“Homelessness is a deeply rooted and complex societal problem that was decades in the making and cannot be fixed overnight, but Los Angeles County is pulling out all the stops to alleviate the crisis on our streets,” Homeless Initiative Interim Director Cheri Todoroff said. “With a $527.1 million budget for the Homeless Initiative, the Board of Supervisors is demonstrating its compassion and its continued commitment to ensuring all Los Angeles County residents have a safe place to call home.”
Among the highlights of the Homeless Initiative’s $527.1 million budget:
• $150 million for interim housing, which provides safe temporary accommodations for people who otherwise have nowhere to spend the night. This can include Emergency Shelter Beds; Stabilization Housing for individuals with complex and or/behavioral health conditions; Bridge Housing for people exiting institutions such as jails, hospitals, or foster care; Recovery Bridge Housing for people receiving outpatient treatment for substance abuse disorders; Recuperative Housing for those recovering from an acute illness or injury; and Board and Care/Enriched Residential Care, which provides 24/7 care and supervision on an interim or permanent basis. The FY 2021-22 budget includes $150 million in Measure H funds for 5,441 interim housing beds, to supplement the County’s interim housing stock.
• $132 million for permanent supportive housing, which lifts people out of chronic homelessness and provides them with a rental subsidy and intensive case management services to help them remain stably housed. The FY 2021-22 budget invests Measure H funds to continue permanent supportive housing for 11,000 households and to enable 2,000 households to receive permanent supportive housing for the first time.
• $89 million for rapid rehousing, which enables clients to quickly exit homelessness by helping them pay for rent and by providing them with supportive services for a limited period, until they can gradually take on the rent themselves.
• $39 million for street outreach teams that build relationships with people living on the streets and in encampments, with the goal of connecting them to housing as well as healthcare, mental health treatment, and other supportive services – a process that can vary in length and is customized to meet each person’s unique needs.
• $23 million for homeless prevention services to help rent-burdened, low-income families and individuals resolve crises that would otherwise cause them to lose their housing, as well as to help individuals avoid becoming homeless after exiting institutions like jails, hospitals, and foster care. These services can include short-term rental subsidies, housing conflict resolution and mediation with landlords and/or property managers, and legal defense against eviction.
Other notable elements of the budget include funding for:
• A new Homelessness Prevention Unit that will use predictive analytics to identify and serve patients of the LA County Departments of Health Services and Mental Health who are at risk of becoming homeless after discharge. They will receive financial assistance for an array of needs, including back rent and overdue utilities, and be connected to other services and benefits.
• A new program that incentivizes owners of multifamily buildings to rent out their entire properties to people experiencing homelessness and provides property management services. This is part of an effort to rapidly expand the availability of housing units in which to use rental subsidies for people experiencing homelessness.
Aside from investing in programs to prevent and combat homelessness, LA County is also continuing to chip away at the affordable housing shortage, one of the primary drivers of homelessness.
By the end of 2020, LA County and partner local jurisdictions had helped developers and service providers leverage state and federal resources to create more than 120,000 affordable homes, a 4% increase from its 2019 inventory of affordable homes, according to the 2021 LA County Annual Affordable Housing Outcomes Report recently released by the nonprofit California Housing Partnership.
The report added that investing locally controlled funding into affordable housing production, preservation, and rental and operating subsidies, and promoting the adoption and use of pro-housing policies such as density bonuses, all contributed to reducing the affordable housing shortfall, which is now 82,393 units fewer than in 2014 but remains significant.
Without factoring in the recent economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that will disproportionately affect lower income households, the report concluded that LA County needs to add approximately 499,430 affordable homes to meet the current demand among renter households at or below 50 percent of the area median income. Another challenge is that a worker currently needs to earn $38.23 per hour — 2.5 times the minimum wage in the City of LA — to afford the average monthly asking rent of $1,988, according to the report.
The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative and Measure H
The Board of Supervisors created the Homeless Initiative in August 2015 to develop an action plan for combating and preventing homelessness. It led to the development of 51 strategies first implemented in February 2016 with $100 million in one-time funding from the Board.
When 70 percent of County voters approved Measure H in March 2017, it created a funding stream dedicated to implementing the strategies of the Homeless Initiative. Measure H is projected to raise $355 million every year for 10 years. To ensure accountability, an independent auditor conducts annual audits, and a Citizen’s Oversight Advisory Board reviews all expenditures and submits periodic evaluations.
Since Measure H revenue became available in July 2017, LA County’s homeless services system has placed nearly 67,000 people in permanent housing — 29,000 of them funded in whole or in part with Measure H, according to the Homeless Initiative’s latest Quarterly Report.
Meanwhile, nearly 90,000 people were placed in interim housing during the same period; about 52,000 of these placements were wholly or partially funded by Measure H. Some of the people who used the interim housing beds were later counted among the 67,000 people placed in permanent housing.