Los Angeles Mayor: Time To Quadruple Spending On Homelessness Crisis

Carl Thomas, 35, a homeless man walks up to his tent on the street in downtown Los Angeles in January. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RICHARD VOGEL
Carl Thomas, 35, a homeless man walks up to his tent on the street in downtown Los Angeles in January. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RICHARD VOGEL

Los Angeles would spend $138 million to fight homelessness in the coming fiscal year under the $8.8 billion budget Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) proposed Wednesday.

The relatively small chunk of Garcetti’s overall spending plan is four times what he spent on homelessness services and housing efforts in the current budget window — and almost eight times what was initially budgeted for such work for fiscal 2016.

Construction of new affordable housing units would take up $86 million of the total. To take advantage of that increase in physical housing capacity, Garcetti would spend $30 million to fund the wraparound services that are essential to the Permanent Supportive Housing model of homelessness policy.

Budget documents do not offer an estimate of how many units of permanent housing and shelter housing that year-one investment would yield. But the city already anticipates spending nearly $2 billion over the coming decade to fully house the nation’s largest concentration of homeless people.


Garcetti’s proposal offers an early sketch of how the city will start spending that money — and where it will find it. Most of the funding would come from existing revenue sources, since the homelessness plan accounts for less than 2 percent of total spending in the budget. But the proposal also envisions a new fee structure for certain development projects. These “linkage fees,” which Garcetti first proposed in October, would ultimately raise anywhere from $37 million to $112 million a year, much of which would be ticketed for homelessness policy uses.

The budget also identifies a handful of city-owned properties that are un- or underused and proposes using them to help address the housing shortfall. Liquidating the lots would generate $47 million in funding for Garcetti’s housing investments, though the budget also leaves the door open to instead redevelop those lots into homeless shelters and permanent housing units.

Most of the lots are in a relatively wealthy part of the city, the Los Angeles Times notes, but City Councilman Mike Bonin thinks his constituents would be OK with hosting mixed-income development projects rather than ones targeted solely at the chronically homeless.

Mixed-income developments are an essential tool to creating communities rather than ghettoizing underprivileged populations. But it can also be much easier politically and financially, and more immediately effective at getting people off the street, to construct complexes like Star Apartments that are specifically for the chronically homeless.

The remaining $18 million or so in Garcetti’s plan would furnish a laundry list of smaller ancillary ideas, like bathing and bathroom sites, storage centers, and satellite offices to help homeless clients navigate the web of services the city hopes to provide.


Investing in higher capacity at such navigation centers is a small thing relative to building $86 million worth of new housing. But as a 2015 lawsuit against surrounding Los Angeles County indicates, the overwhelmed services systems in the overall metro area are failing to deliver necessary aid to many clients. “Addressing homelessness also requires the cooperation of the County of Los Angeles and 87 other cities in the County,” the mayor’s office notes in a budget summary document.

The storage units idea could either resolve or exacerbate another present-day conflict that deprives homeless people of security and dignity, depending on how it is executed. City officials now routinely confiscate and even destroy personal property from homeless people who are being relocated from one or another informal campsite around Los Angeles. A federal judge recently chastised the city for failing to distinguish between contraband and prescription medicines, for instance.

Providing more storage units spread around the city could make it easier for homeless people to retrieve their property after such a raid — or it could increase the city’s capacity to seize property and dismantle encampments, a common but destructive approach to homelessness that federal policy officials oppose.