From the Field: Los Angeles Voters Pass Measure to Expand Homeless Services and Defeat Restrictions on New Development

Los Angeles County voters took major steps toward ending homelessness at the ballot box on March 7. By slightly more than the two-thirds majority needed, voters passed Measure H to generate about $355 million over the next ten years for homeless services. By a much more resounding margin, voters defeated Measure S, which would have severely reduced housing production and exacerbated the already extreme housing shortage in the City of Los Angeles. The two victories required extensive campaign work by many housing, labor, and social justice community groups, including the Southern California Association of NonProfit Housing (SCANPH), an NLIHC state partner.

A 50-person panel of county officials, representatives from various cities, service providers, and community advocates will now decide how to distribute the new $355 million for homeless services. The panel will consider seven potential uses for the funds: subsidized housing, homelessness prevention, income support, preservation of existing housing, coordinated outreach, shelters, case management, and other services. The campaign that worked to pass Measure H indicated the new resources would make it possible to move 45,000 households into housing. The successful advocacy campaign cost an estimated $3.5 million and involved major contributions from business interests including the Disney Corporation and the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.

Measure S was an ambitious proposal to curb large-scale housing developments and to expand the influence of neighborhoods in the development approval process. Applying only to the City of Los Angeles and not to the broader county, Measure S garnered only 31.1% of the vote when a majority was needed to pass. The measure would have placed a two-year moratorium on all developments that did not comply with the city’s General Plan. The General Plan governs zoning and planning, and is widely recognized as an outdated framework; Los Angeles developers are commonly granted waivers to proceed with projects that do not fit various height, density, parking capacity, and other requirements. Passage of Measure S would have effectively halted housing production in what is already one of the priciest markets in the country. Advocates for Measure S were largely composed of neighborhood coalitions fighting against what they saw as a corrupt local government process in which wealthy developers routinely buy influence to secure approvals. Numerous city leaders have agreed that reforms to the General Plan and the approval process need to occur soon, and the debate on Measure S may yet produce important reforms.

The two recent victories build on a prior ballot success in November, 2016, when Los Angeles voters passed Proposition HHH to allow $1.2 billion to be raised through general obligation bonds to pay for 10,000 new supportive housing units throughout the county. Proposition HHH provides essential capital that will increase the feasibility of developing housing units, while the funding from Measure H will provide for the services that connect homeless households with these and other units and allow them to remain in their homes.