How Do You Resolve the Homelessness Problem in Los Angeles Without Increasing Taxes?

There is a considerable amount of debate over how to address the massive homelessness problem in Los Angeles. An aspect of that debate is how can the homelessness issue be addressed in LA without further burdening the residents of the city and county with higher taxes. The fact is that there doesn’t exist a simple answer to this question.

Most experts who research the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles have concluded that resolving the homelessness problem in the city and county is not possible without the expenditure of a least some tax money. However, merely throwing more tax dollars at homelessness in Los Angeles will not further a resolution of the issue.

Measure H: A New Tax to Address the Homelessness Problem in Los Angeles

The presumption has been that a majority of Los Angeles residents have been generally opposed to spending additional tax dollars on trying to address the homelessness problem in the city and county. In the interests of full disclosure, that objection significantly stems from a belief on the part of many LA residents that tax money currently is not being effectively utilized to alleviate the homeless problem in the greater LA metro area. Adding more tax dollars to the mix would constitute a waste of money in the minds of these people.

Understanding this widespread analysis regarding tax dollars, an initiative to increase sales tax dollars to address the homelessness problem was put before the voters in the spring of 2018 in the form of Measure H. Measure H calls for spending over $3 billion over a decade to alleviate homelessness in LA. Sales tax generated through this program is proposed to be spent at the rate of over $300 million a year during the established time period.

Measure H was approved by voters. Sales tax dollars collected through this initiative will begin to be spent to alleviate homelessness in LA beginning later in 2018.

Perhaps a key reason why this type of tax was approved by voters is because the burden of a sales tax does not fall on LA city and county residents alone. Los Angeles is a major U.S. tourist destination. Thus, a considerable amount of sales tax is generated from visitors to the area each year. Some argue that the sales tax associated with Measure H was more palatable to LA area residents because others from outside the city and county will be paying it as well.

Lowering Tax Expenditures to Resolve LA Homelessness Problem

Perhaps the real question isn’t how to resolve the homelessness problem without additional tax dollars. Perhaps the question real question is how to lower additional and more intelligently utilize tax expenditures designated for homelessness programming.

One strategy that can be employed that appears to result in the more efficient and effective expenditure of tax dollars to aid in resolving homelessness is establishing an umbrella organization to coordinate efforts to combat homelessness. The coordination includes various entities:

  • City government agencies
  • County government agencies
  • Religious organizations
  • Various nonprofit organizations
  • Neighborhood associations

The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative is an example of such an umbrella organization.

In coordinating the efforts of multiple entities to address homelessness in Los Angeles, the Homeless Initiative has an overall mission that addresses six key areas:

  • Prevention
  • Subsidized housing
  • Increased income
  • Case management
  • Coordinated system
  • Affordable housing

Long Terms Solutions Save Tax Dollars

The most important element of resolving the homelessness problem in Los Angeles with regard to the tax burden borne by LA residents is to develop long term solutions. Too often, Band Aids are applied to homelessness problems rather than the implementation of long term, definitive strategies.

The costs associated with dealing with homeless in a reactive, rather than proactive, manner run between $35,000 to $150,000 per homeless person annually. This includes everything from emergency room visits to emergency shelter costs.

Research reveals that the cost associated with finding permanent housing for a homeless individual is between $12,000 and $25,000 annually. This results in an annual savings of at least $10,000, and likely more for every homeless individual placed in a permanent housing situation.

The sales tax initiative mentioned previously is intended to be applied to long-term, permanent solutions to homelessness. Specific milestones have been established to eliminate chronic homelessness in Los Angeles over the course of the coming decade. This would represent a major accomplishment because at this juncture in time, Los Angeles has the highest rate of chronic homelessness of any community in the United States.