LA Housing Department wants six hires to implement Measure ULA

Caution prevails as voter-approved tax faces two court challenges

Los Angeles Housing Department with LAHD's Ann Sewill
Los Angeles Housing Department with LAHD's Ann Sewill (LAHD, Google Maps, Getty)

The Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) is requesting six new hires immediately to help with the implementation of Measure ULA, the City of Los Angeles’s signature new transfer tax, even as it treads cautiously because of looming legal questions.  

The request came in a letter that the department’s general manager, along with the L.A. City Administrative Officer (CAO), sent to the Mayor Karen Bass and the City Council last month in response to an earlier motion filed by council members ahead of the tax’s implementation. The department settled on the six positions, which would cost around $500,000, after conducting an internal analysis that found staffing gaps related to program planning, research analytics, policy development and communications. 

“These significant core capabilities are very limited at LAHD compared to housing departments in other major cities or other large city departments,” the report states. “Absent immediate approval and action to address these gaps, LAHD and the city will not be able to effectively launch and start implementation of Measure ULA.”

The hiring recommendation is also an attempt to avoid repeating past mistakes: The report cites the department’s failings related to Los Angeles’ other recent signature homelessness funding measure, Proposition HHH, a now widely derided ballot measure L.A. voters approved in 2016 that authorized the city to issue $1.2 billion in bonds. 

“While Proposition HHH ultimately provided more units, ahead of schedule, and at a lower city subsidy per unit than initially projected, LAHD and the city have been unable to effectively counter public perception that Proposition HHH failed to meet its goals and objectives,” the report says. “That is a consequence, at least in part, of LAHD’s limited communications, external affairs, and research and data infrastructure.” 

Mostly, though, the current LAHD hiring recommendation also reflects a cautious approach to implementing the tax. 

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Although Measure ULA, which kicked in this month, is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually (the most recent estimate is for $672 million for the next fiscal year), the tax faces two legal challenges, including one from the lobbying group Apartment Associaiton of Greater Los Angeles and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. 

If the measure is ultimately overturned in court, the city would have to return the money it collected, LAHD and the CAO point out, a situation that effectively puts the mayor and City Council in legal limbo. 

“Until there is a court order to stay implementation or a decision that invalidates the measure, the city is mandated to implement Measure ULA in accordance with its provisions,” the report says. “The mayor and City Council, however, would need to decide if they are willing to risk expending an amount of the tax collected on priority projects before the court cases are resolved.” 

The housing department will expand on its hiring needs related to Measure ULA in the future, the report mentions, but the six positions it’s requesting now would remain in place even if the law is ultimately overturned. 

More clarity could come within several weeks. A hearing over whether to combine the two legal challenges against Measure ULA is scheduled for later this month, with more legal action to follow. While real estate sales that closed beginning April 1 are currently subject to the new tax, the city won’t get any money until late May, when it receives a disbursement from the county, according to the LAHD letter. 

The City Council has referred the LAHD and CAO recommendations to its budget and finance and housing and homelessness committees.

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