Push for ballot measure to tax resi sales over $5M moves forward

Levy of up 5.5 percent tax billed as way to further fund homelessness programs

Mansion, Taxes, Ballots

A measure to tax high-dollar home sales to further fund homelessness programs in Los Angeles appears likely to qualify for the November ballot.

Advocates for the United to House L.A. initiative have submitted nearly 98,200 signatures to the City Clerk to qualify for the fall election, LAist reported. The measure needs just over 61,000 valid signatures to qualify.

The initiative aims to raise $800 million a year by taxing property sales of $5 million or more with a levy ranging from 4 percent to 5.5 percent.

The funds would be directed toward creating an estimated 26,000 new homes over a 10-year period, and to preventing homelessness by helping vulnerable tenants and enforcing existing renter protections, backers have said.

“Only millionaires and billionaires have to pay the tiny tax on mega mansions,” said Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, one of the initiative’s supporters. “But we’ll all benefit from reduced homelessness.”

If the measure is placed on the November ballot, the initiative could set off an election showdown between a coalition of advocates for homeless residents and labor union backers and the local real estate industry, which opposes it.

Critics of the measure point to a lack of progress from Measures H and HHH, two tax increases passed by L.A. voters – which haven’t delivered the promised number of housing units, or lowered the number of Angelenos living on the streets.

“We’re just concerned that another tax — levied on whatever class of owner — is not going to fix the problem,” said Ryan Ole Hass, a former president of the Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors.

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“Why don’t we look at what we’ve raised before and say, ‘OK, how can we take the money we have and make it effective?’” he said.

Proponents of the measure say this plan is different.

While the previous initiatives largely focused on the chronically homeless, they say the new measure would help prevent people from falling into homelessness by either funding eviction prevention efforts, or by quickly creating new housing by buying existing buildings.

Real estate brokers, however, see a discriminatory overreach that would wreak havoc on the housing market.

They also object to a perceived tendency by municipalities of singling out real estate for revenue — and to the massive amounts of money local governments have already poured into homelessness spending.

In 2016, Los Angeles voters approved Proposition HHH, authorizing $1.2 billion in bonds intended to go toward homeless housing; the following year L.A. County voters passed Measure H, which implemented a quarter cent sales tax project to raise $350 million a year over 10 years to pay for homeless services and short-term housing.

Homelessness has grown steadily in the years since each measure passed, a trend confirmed by official surveys and the visible number of homeless residents on the streets.

[LAist]- Dana Bartholomew

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