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LA officials poised to spend $1.2 billion on homeless housing

File: A homeless man fixes his tent along a street in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
File: A homeless man fixes his tent along a street in Los Angeles, California on February 9, 2016.

Los Angeles city leaders, flush with $1.2 billion in voter-approved bonds for homeless housing, are now trying to figure out how to spend that money as quickly as possible.

"We want to get moving pretty quickly," said Kerry Morrison, a member of the committee overseeing the money raised by Proposition HHH. "We need to show voters this is a process with a sense of urgency."

The proposition, which passed with 76 percent of the vote in November, must be spent mostly on housing for formerly homeless. City leaders plan to start taking proposals for housing projects on Friday and are looking for projects that are mostly approved and ready to go, but for gaps in funding. 

Originally, the city expected to fund up to 10,000 units with the money. But that number may fluctuate, according to a report released Friday from the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID). 

According to the report, units funded this first year could cost up to $220,000 each — about $80,000 more than usual.

"Construction costs have continued to go up," said Rushmore Cervantes, HCID's general manager. Meanwhile, he said, other forms of public investment have dried up. 

Public money is one piece of how an affordable housing project is funded, coupled with some combination of private investment, loans, and selling tax credits. The various rules and application processes attached to each funding source can slow projects down, something officials will have to contend with as they move forward. 

Officials are also looking ahead to the March 7 election, when voters in the City of L.A. will take up Measure S, also known as the "Neighborhood Integrity Initiative." The proposition would place tight limits on development for two years, a move officials say could derail the city's plans to tackle homelessness. 

The initiative's proponents, meanwhile, say Proposition S is mainly aimed at luxury developments.

Voters in the county will also take up Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax designed to fund services like mental health care, drug counseling, and homelessness prevention programs. That measure, considered a necessary piece to keep formerly homeless from ending up back on the streets, requires two-thirds of the vote to pass.