Opinion: Prop. 63 critics miss the mark entirely

Both this response and the original opinion it responds to have good points.  The money the voters dedicated to address mental illness should be spent wisely, as should all taxpayer money.  For the most part, that has been the case, and many thousands of Californians are able to live in dignity and safety because of the generosity of the voters.

By the early part of this decade, 30 years of underfunding had left California’s mental health system in tatters.  Dollars were available to serve only half those in need of services.  In this crisis-driven system, individuals too often reached a crisis point before receiving care, resulting in a chronic cycle of homelessness, institutionalization or incarceration.

Voters sought to change this costly system and improve its effectiveness when they passed Prop. 63 in 2004 – providing funding designated to increase delivery of proven services to those with severe mental illness.  Recognizing that reducing homelessness and incarceration – and dollars spent on institutionalization—requires taking the long view, MHSA also identified prevention and early intervention as a key priority.

In Los Angeles County alone, results show that since 2006, 528,424 people with mental illness or serious emotional disturbance have been served by MHSA-funded programs and those in crisis are more likely to find the help they need in cost-effective community services rather than costly settings like jails and institutions.

So it is concerning to read the authors of the Capitol Weekly Opinion “In California’s System of Care for the Mentally Ill, Leadership Is Lacking,” advocate for a return to a system which only serves a fraction of the population in need, and only then in the most costly settings. Read more

Should Taxpayers Subsidize Property Owners in Flood Areas?

2011 Minot ND Flood

2011 Minot ND Flood, Source: FEMA

In the past year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that there have been 66 declared flood disasters in America.  That works out to an average of 5½ flood disasters a month.

Some of those disasters were associated with tornadoes, mudslides and strong winds, and they ranged from Puerto Rico to Alaska, and California to Maine, but most were simply predictable heavy rainfall leading to rivers and streams overflowing their banks.  For the most part, these are not Hurricane Katrina “once-in-500-years” events.  In fact, most of the floods are fairly predictable because the same area has been flooded in the past, and some precautions have been taken to reduce the severity of flooding in the future.  These people knew there was a risk of being flooded, and they decided to take the risk. (Note: This isn’t true of some flood events, like hurricanes.  One estimate shows that the majority of properties at risk from flooding due to Hurricane Irene are not located in FEMA flood zones, but that doesn’t apply to most floods.)

In part, economists think people take the risk because they know that any benefits coming from locating there will come to the private property owners and costs will be absorbed by the taxpayers.  In economic terms, they have privatized the profits and socialized the losses.

Should the public continue to subsidize this behavior? Read more

Have Rents in California Really Gone Down?

Every year about this time the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) recalculates and publishes revised Fair Market Rents (FMRs) for every county in the nation.  These are used to determine the “payment standard amount” of subsidy HUD will allow Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to pay private landlords on behalf of poor families who qualify for Section 8 rental housing assistance (also known as Housing Choice Vouchers).

Usually, after HUD finishes its calculations, the FMRs increase somewhat.  The change depends on a lot of factors, including a cost of living factor and market rent changes.  Once in a while, the FMRs decrease, usually because economic factors have made housing cheaper.  (In L.A., FMRs increased for 24 of the past 28 years.) Rent control doesn’t have much effect on the changes, because HUD focuses on the rents being paid by recent movers.

However, when HUD released the proposed 2012 FMRs, California was in for a big surprise––FMRs for 39 of California’s 58 counties decreased. Did actual rents really go down in most of California?  Or is there a problem with the way HUD calculates FMRs?  What effect would the reduced payment standard have on the poor families who depend on Section 8/Vouchers?  What effect would the reduced FMRs have on the landlords who receive payments on behalf of those families?

Read more

Cheaper to rent than to buy condo in L.A.

Why is Los Angeles more costly to condo buyers? And will this trend persist, or will LA’s market adjust as more REOs come on the market? What do you think?

August 15, 2011 |  3:59 pm

Condo1 In much of the nation, it’s cheaper to buy a condominium than to rent an apartment. But not necessarily in Los Angeles.

Despite the steep drop in housing prices, it still makes sense for many Angelenos to rent rather than buy, according to an analysis by real estate website Trulia.

Trulia calculated a ratio that compared the median list price of two-bedroom condos with the median rental cost of similarly sized apartments.

It’s cheaper to buy in cities with ratios of 15 to 1 or less, and cheaper to rent in cities with ratios of 21 to 1 or more, according to Trulia. It’s generally cheaper to rent in cities with 16-1 to 20-1 ratios, although in some situations it could make financial sense to buy. In Los Angeles, the ratio was 19 to 1.

It’s cheaper to buy than rent in Sacramento (ratio: 8 to 1), Long Beach (12 to 1) and San Diego (15 to 1), according to Trulia.

Across the rest of the nation, it’s cheaper to buy in about three-quarters of U.S. cities.

According to Trulia, the median monthly rent is $2,100 in Los Angeles. That compares with the median monthly condo cost (including property tax and home insurance) of $2,438.

Potential buyers should consider several factors before jumping in, according to Trulia.

First, make sure your job is secure and your income is steady. Next, make sure you’ll stay in the home seven to 10 years (in case the price falls after you’ve bought).

Finally, have eight to 12 months of mortgage payments in an emergency fund -– to make sure you can keep paying the mortgage in case your job isn’t as secure as you think it is.


Southern California home sales and prices fall again in July

Homeowners who want to trade up are stuck waiting

U.S. looks outside the box to stem housing glut

— Walter Hamilton

Photo: Los Angeles Times file


How Much Parking Is Too Much?

Capital BuildingHow much parking is too much? For housing near transit stops, more than one per dwelling, according to the California Infill Builders Association.  They are sponsoring a bill in this year’s California Legislative Session, AB 710, authored by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, that would prohibit cities and counties from requiring the builders provide more than one off-street parking space per dwelling unit, or more than one off-street parking space per 1,000 sq.ft. of floor area for nonresidential uses, in areas near transit.

Why is this a big deal? Well, off-street parking is expensive and adds a lot to the cost of development.  Builders can show that building off-street parking spaces can cost from $2,500 to $25,000 each, depending on whether the parking is part of surface lot, or in an underground or above-ground garage.  The costs vary a lot because land costs differ so much between different parts of California.  But there is no question that off-street parking is expensive and adds to the cost of developing housing and other buildings near transit. Read more