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Measure H: With funding in place, solving homelessness is now up to the politicians

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti talks with L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas
Brian Watt
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas pushed for voters to fund homeless measures. Now that they've gotten their wishes, the pressure's on to produce.

With Tuesday's electoral victory, leaders in Los Angeles appear to have everything they need to tackle the area's growing homeless crisis over the next decade. Now the pressure is on to make good on their promises. 

Measure H, a sales tax increase that could raise $355 million annually for services for homeless currently has 67.44 percent of the vote, with some ballots still left to count. The special tax requires a 2/3 victory (or 66.67 percent) to pass. 

Well before Tuesday's election, the county started to put a structure and plan in place should the measure pass. If the election results hold, the Board of Supervisors will vote in June on how to spend the initial funds, and they'll begin spending them in July. The tax would expire in ten years. 

Though cautiously awaiting final tallies, L.A. County leaders Wednesday were happy and relieved by Measure H's apparent victory.

"The voters have expressed their will over the past several years about this issue," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who donated a significant chunk of cash from his own campaign fund to advocate for the measure. "Now they've opened their hearts, they've opened their wallets." 

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who wrote the motion to get Measure H on the ballot, said people are going to want to see results quickly.

"They're going to want to see more shelters open, they're going to want to see more people finding places to live, they're going to want to see more people being treated for drug addiction," she said, noting she won't be satisfied if homelessness doesn't start to go down next year. 

If Measure H had not passed — or if remaining uncounted ballots are enough to derail its current lead — supervisors would have been faced with trying to find another way to fund their ambitious plans to significantly reduce homelessness. They may have been forced, Ridley-Thomas said, to take a new proposal to the voters in November, by which time the homeless problem could be worse. 

"We just would have been faced with more daunting circumstances," Ridley-Thomas said. 

Instead, the voters have apparently given leaders everything they've asked for. Proposition HHH, passed overwhelmingly by voters in the City of L.A. in November, was the first piece of the puzzle, providing $1.2 billion in bond money to construct housing for formerly homeless. County and city leaders then rallied around Measure H, to provide services that get people into housing, keep them there, and prevent families and individuals on the brink from falling into homelessness.

On top of that, both city and county leaders came out in force against Proposition S, an anti-development measure they said would kill plans to build affordable housing and units for the homeless. Voters apparently headed their  warnings, overwhelmingly voting against that measure. 

"Thank you to all the voters," said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who also won reelection Tuesday, appearing on KPCC's AirTalk Wednesday morning. "I'm hopeful this will not only help us address homelessness, but truly end it.

The pieces, it seems, are finally in place for L.A. to proceed. 

For years, local officials have complained about a lack of resources to tackle the growing homeless crisis. A region-wide count in January 2016 found there were roughly 47,000 homeless in L.A. County, a 19 percent jump from 2013. 

Ridley-Thomas said he and his colleagues are well aware the voters expect no more excuses when it comes to tackling homelessness.

"I think that's what the voters are saying," he said. "This is a huge amount of money to fight this problem in a way that we have never had before. It is our opportunity and our obligation to show results."

The measure promised to put 45,000 formerly homeless into permanent housing within five years. 

Proof of whether or not local leaders make good on their promises, now that voters have given them the money they asked for, will be on L.A.'s streets, which thousands and thousands of people have turned into makeshift homes. 

"This has been here for decades, it won't go away overnight," Garcetti said. "I think this is a five to ten year process, but you'll begin to see some results in the first few years."

KPCC's Take Two will tackle the details of what comes next, and how Measure H money could be spent on Thursday with guests Stephanie Klasky-Gamer from L.A. Family Housing and Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission. Tune in at 9 a.m.