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LA County to spend $300 million over 5 years on affordable housing

A tent pitched by a homeless person sits on the hilltop overlooking the Port of Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Los Angeles. Seaports in the U.S. West Coast that were all but shut over the weekend because of a contract dispute are reopening as the nation's top labor official tries to solve a stalemate between dockworkers and their employers that already has disrupted billions of dollars in U.S. international trade. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/AP
A tent pitched by a homeless person sits on the hilltop overlooking the Port of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to dramatically boost spending on affordable housing, part of a strategy to keep low-income residents from becoming homeless.

Over the next five years, the county will spend an estimated $300 million on affordable housing. It will begin in September of 2016 with a $20 million expenditure. Funding will increase each subsequent year, hitting $100 million annually in 2020. At that point, the county would maintain that funding level annually.

Producing low-cost housing has taken on added urgency as the region's homeless count keeps rising. In Los Angeles County, about 44,000 people sleep on the streets and in shelters, an increase of 12 percent over two years ago.

In recent weeks, city, county, state and federal officials have pledged their commitment to reducing the region's homeless population. The county had already set aside $50 million this year to fight homelessness, but last month, the board boosted that amount by an additional $50 million. A few weeks ago, the L.A. City Council approved spending an additional $100 million to fight homelessness.

Tuesday's Board of Supervisor's vote came after a back-and-forth discussion over where the affordable housing funds should come from, between a skeptical Supervisor Don Knabe and the plan's sponsors, Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Knabe had proposed an alternative funding plan that would draw from 20 percent of excess funds leftover from the budget year, about $28 million.

"I’m committed to affordable housing just like you are, but taking the number out of the sky bothers me," Knabe said.

Kuehl reassured "that money can be found, and that money will be there." Ridley-Thomas stressed the need to "scale up."

"It’s as audacious as it is aspirational," Ridley-Thomas said. "That’s what good public policy ought to be."

The board voted 5-0 in favor of Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas' proposal. County CEO Sachi Hamai said staff would consider Knabe's funding idea as a way to generate the funds for affordable housing. 

About 40 people testified, many of them representing housing developers, homeless people and religious organizations. Nearly all were in support of the plan.  Eunisses Hernandez of the Drug Policy Institute said housing was a basic need that people had to have before getting their lives in order.

"When people don’t have a place to sleep, services like drug treatment and mental health are not the first thing on their list," Hernandez said.

Marsha Temple, executive director of the Integrated Recovery Network, was one of the few people to express any reservations about the plan.

"I think it’s a good idea to build more affordable housing, but it will take at least three years to get one of these units online," Temple said. "I urge you in the name of practicality, make some of this money available to get people into housing now."

Supporters of the affordable housing plan point out it calls for 'rapid rehousing' funds that will help people facing short-term homelessness get back on their feet quickly.

This story has been updated.