February 24, 2020 - From the February, 2020 issue

Gov. Newsom’s 2020 State of the State Address Prioritizes Homelessness & Housing Initiatives

In his 2020 State of the State Address, Governor Gavin Newsom began by acknowledging California’s innovation economy and fiscal health, but focused the majority of his remarks on his plan for addressing the state’s failure on housing affordability and homelessness. As California cities now work to decipher, digest, and begin to implement the legislature’s 2019 landmark housing legislation, Gov. Newsom, noting that “the State never rests on its laurels," calls for major reform to increase certainty that ‘units planned’ become ‘units built.’ Central to the Governor’s proposal is a new “first-in-the-nation” $750 million housing fund to be distributed and leveraged regionally for investment in housing and homeless solutions and tied tightly to measurable state accountability standards that “hold local governments responsible for results.” TPR presents an excerpt of the governor’s remarks as well as the Califormia League of Cities' responding statement. Find the full address online here


"Our objectives are clear: to increase density in a way that promotes equity, affordability, and inclusion; to increase certainty that “units planned” become “units built” in a way that respects environmental and labor protections; and to hold local governments accountable for both of these pillars—more density and more certainty" —Gavin Newsom

"When we don’t build housing for people at all income levels, we worsen the homeless crisis"—Gavin Newsom

There are 1.6 million fewer Californians living in poverty today than in 2011—a full quarter of the nation’s decrease. But no amount of progress can camouflage the most pernicious crisis in our midst, the ultimate manifestation of poverty: homelessness.

Let’s call it what it is, a disgrace, that the richest state in the richest nation—succeeding across so many sectors—is failing to properly house, heal, and humanely treat so many of its own people.

Every day, the California Dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed; Military veterans who wore the uniform of our country in a foreign land, abandoned here at home; LGBTQ youth fleeing abuse and rejection from their families and communities—faces of despair—failed by our country’s leaders and our nation’s institutions.

As Californians, we pride ourselves on our unwavering sense of compassion and justice for humankind—but there’s nothing compassionate about allowing fellow Californians to live on the streets, huddled in cars or makeshift encampments. And there’s nothing just about sidewalks and street corners that aren’t safe and clean for everybody.

The problem has persisted for decades—caused by massive failures in our mental health system and disinvestment in our social safety net—exacerbated by widening income inequality and California’s housing shortage.

The hard truth is we ignored the problem. We turned away when it wasn’t our sister, our brother, our neighbor, our friend. And when it was a loved one, help wasn’t there. Most of us experienced homelessness as a pang of guilt, not a call to action.

Back in 2005, when we started our point-in-time counts, there were over 188,000 homeless people in California—35,000 more than we have today. Even at that peak, the state didn’t treat it with the urgency required. It became normalized and concentrated in skid rows and tent cities in big urban centers.

Now it’s no longer isolated. In fact, some of the most troubling increases have occurred in rural areas, in small towns, and remote parts of our state. No place is immune. No person untouched. And too often no one wants to take responsibility. I’ve even heard local officials proclaim in public: it’s not my problem.

Servants of the public too busy pointing fingers to step up and help? That’s shameful. After all, every homeless Californian, living on a boulevard of broken dreams, is a casualty of institutional failures—a person who’s fallen through every possible hole in the safety net. Homelessness impacts everyone, but not equally. Some communities have been hit much harder.

Urban renewal and gentrification broke up communities of color and throttled their abilities to move into the middle class. These are systemic issues rooted in poverty and racial discrimination.

Black Californians comprise 8 percent of Los Angeles County’s population—but 42 percent of its homeless. And a recent poll found that nearly half of Latinos in the state are afraid that they or a family member could become homeless.

The State of California can no longer treat homelessness and housing insecurity as someone else’s problem, buried below other priorities that are easier to win or better suited for soundbites. It is our responsibility. And it must be at the top of our agenda.

This crisis was not created overnight, and it will not be solved overnight—or even in one year. But as a State, we must do everything we can to ensure no Californian is homeless.

We must replace California’s scattershot approach with a coordinated crisis-level response. To meet this moment with the commitment it demands, we will advance a new framework.

We will reduce street homelessness quickly and humanely through emergency actions.

We will be laser-focused on getting the mentally ill out of tents and into treatment.

We will provide stable funding to get sustainable results.

We will tackle the underproduction of affordable housing in California.

And we will do all of this with real accountability and consequences.

First, we’ve started with emergency actions to do everything we can now to make an immediate, tangible impact. After decades of neglect and inadequate responses, we are putting our entire state government on notice to respond with urgency.

Last month, I issued an Executive Order deploying emergency mobile housing trailers and services for homeless families and seniors. The first trailers have been deployed to Oakland and Los Angeles County. The next, I’m pleased to announce today, are headed to Santa Clara, Riverside, Contra Costa, and Sonoma Counties, as well as the City of Stockton.

That same Executive Order builds on our work last year to identify all excess state land. Today, we are making available 286 state properties—vacant lots, fairgrounds, armories and other state buildings—to be used by local governments, for free, for homelessness solutions. We have lease templates ready to go—and we’re ready for partnership. We have also directed Caltrans to make better use of other unoccupied spaces to get homeless housing up as fast as possible.

We have great examples under development in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Los Angeles. We’re able to move faster than ever before on things like leases and land because we established a Strike Team across many agencies, including Health & Human Services, Caltrans, and the CHP—all with one goal: to break through bureaucratic barriers.

As the state moves fast, we must also move together with cities and counties who are critical allies in addressing this emergency. Two months ago, we issued a 100-day challenge to our local partners: to focus on one part of their homeless population and address it with intentionality. Dozens of communities across our state are stepping up.

But as we continue with these emergency actions, we must eliminate roadblocks to housing and shelter.

Last year, because of your leadership, I was proud to sign two important bills. One streamlined the permitting process for navigation centers statewide. The second exempted all shelters and homeless housing from environmental review in Los Angeles. This year, let’s expand that law and extend it to all homeless shelters and supportive housing statewide.

We need more housing, not more delays. We are also pushing for new models of homeless housing—like hotel/motel conversions and pre-fab and tiny homes—and as we do, we’ll cut the red tape to get to “yes” on these innovative approaches.

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It’s time to match our big-hearted empathy with tight-fisted accountability. In the past two years, $1.5 billion has been allocated to help local governments solve homelessness. This includes $650 million in Emergency Homelessness Aid we recently approved.

Up until now, state aid has been block granted to local governments by formula. Spending decisions have been relatively unrestricted and locally driven. But the problem has gotten worse. The results speak for themselves. We need a new approach.

In the budget I just submitted, I proposed a new California Access to Housing Fund, and, with it, a whole new way of investing in homeless solutions.

 We have a clear purpose for this Fund: paying for what works. That includes gap financing for innovative housing models like hotel/motel conversions and securing vacant units wherever we can find them; stabilizing and expanding board and care homes; and preventing homelessness in the first place through rent subsidies and rapid rehousing to help people one job loss, one illness, away from homelessness.

With this first-in-the-nation statewide housing fund, we can braid together state and philanthropic dollars, as well as health care, mental health, and social services—paying for housing, not overhead, by capping all administrative costs at 10 percent. Nimble and flexible to evolve from best practices to next practices.

With deep regional coordination. And clear metrics: Number of new leases signed; Number of new housing units converted or built; Number of people stabilized with rent subsidies; Number of people moved off the streets.

To get us started with urgency, I am calling on this Legislature to invest an essential and unprecedented $750 million into this fund. Based on the severity of the crisis, we need early legislative action to set up the legal authorities to enter into contracts with service providers now—not waiting until months from now—because we don’t have months.

The public has lost patience, you have all lost patience, and so have I.

To reverse decades of neglect, and turn around a crisis this deep-rooted, we need more than one-time funding. We need significant sustainable revenue. So in the coming months, I pledge to work closely with you to identify this ongoing revenue to provide the safer, cleaner streets our communities deserve.

It’s time to muster the political will to meet this moment.

The people of California are demanding bold, permanent solutions.

Anything less won’t get the job done.

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We’ll match this with a new legal obligation to address this crisis head-on. Requiring that our new funding isn’t replacing existing spending but creating new solutions.

Some have recommended a legal “Right to Shelter.” It’s a provocative idea that forced the State to explore the limits of what local governments can be compelled to do. But right now, our imperative must be bringing governments together as working partners, not sparring partners in a court of law.

So instead we are proposing strict accountability, comprehensive audits and a “do-it-or-lose-it” policy to hold local governments responsible for results. Take action or lose access to this new funding.

To track progress, the state will establish a unified homelessness data system to capture accurate, local information. Because you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

It’s time for the failed policy of “not my problem” to be replaced with one of shared responsibility across every sector and every community. Look: not one city, not one county, not even one state can shoulder this responsibility alone. This is a national crisis.

Federal decision-making contributed to this moment and our federal government has an obligation to match its rhetoric with specific, constructive, and deliverable results. California has and will continue to extend its hand of partnership to Washington, seeking to jointly address this issue.

Honestly, this partnership should be a given. But empty words and symbolic gestures won’t mask a 15 percent across-the-board cut to HUD’s budget. I’m old enough to remember when HUD was in the housing business. And I’m hopeful it will be again.

After all, homelessness isn’t a blue or a red issue. It’s an everyone issue—a blight on the soul of America.

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Of course, the fundamental building block of California’s solution has to be more housing. A comprehensive response to our collective failure to build enough of it. When we don’t build housing for people at all income levels, we worsen the homeless crisis.

It’s a vicious cycle, and we own it. And the only sustainable way out of it is to massively increase housing production. Let’s match our courage on homelessness with courage on housing supply.

Last year, we made a new, historic $1.75 billion investment to boost production—as part of a $7 billion affordable housing package. We secured new judicial penalties against cities that don’t plan and zone for their fair share of housing.

We protected tenants like never before—finally outlawing discrimination against people with housing vouchers, creating a permanent fund to provide legal assistance to at-risk tenants, and we worked together to crack down on rent spikes and unjust evictions, passing the nation’s strongest statewide renter protections.Thanks to your leadership, last year, I signed 18 bills to boost housing production.

But time and time again, bigger, bolder reform hasn’t happened—in part because of some legitimate concerns.

Many of our lowest-income residents understandably worry about being pushed out of their own communities because of gentrification. Middle-class homeowners worry that their single-family home could lose its value—a scary prospect given a house is often a family’s biggest asset. These real concerns should not be brushed aside.

At the same time, we also know the status quo is simply unacceptable—we aren’t building enough housing. Look, I get cities need to meet their housing goals in a way that matches their community but doing nothing is no longer an option.

I respect local control but not at the cost of creating a two-class California—not at the cost of imperiling the California Dream.

We must grow our communities so people can live, work, and thrive—spending more time with their family, less in traffic. This means a commitment—right now, this year—to major reform that will eliminate red tape and delays for building critically needed housing – like affordable, multifamily homes—especially near transit and downtowns.

I am committed to working with leaders in both the Senate and Assembly to craft and pass needed reforms.

Our objectives are clear: to increase density in a way that promotes equity, affordability, and inclusion; to increase certainty that “units planned” become “units built” in a way that respects environmental and labor protections; and to hold local governments accountable for both of these pillars—more density and more certainty.

It’s time for California to say yes to housing. We cannot wait.

So this is the challenge before us and those are the tough choices we must make. Overcoming adversity and tackling intractable problems are as ingrained in California’s character as our sun-kissed coast and our bread-basket valley. With homelessness, I know it can be done because I’ve seen successes along the way.

It’s an enduring California value that every Californian has value.

I don’t think homelessness can be solved. I know homelessness can be solved.

This is our cause. This is our calling.

Let us rise to the challenge and make California stand as an exemplar of what true courage and compassion can achieve.

Let’s get to work.

Cities Stand Ready to Partner with Gov. Gavin Newsom to Address Housing and Homelessness

The day after Gov. Newsom delivered his 2020 State of the State address, in a show of collaboration and solidarity, he joined the League of California cities for a press conference to reiterate his commitment  to working with cities and the legislature in partnership to support local governments—with dedicated funding—working to implement the state's vision for abundant, affordable housing. Watch the press conference with the League's Executive Director, Carolyn Coleman and Governor Newsom transcribed below, by clicking here.
 

Carolyn Coleman: I want everybody to know that the League will continue to work with the Governor and the Legislature in the coming months to address the housing and homelessness crisis in our state. It has been decades in the making, but clearly now is the time to act and do something about this.

Experience shows all of us that there is not just one path to homelessness. Similarly, we know that there is not a single path to reducing the number of homeless and unsheltered populations in our communities. There is a variety of actions that we all must take. The League of California Cities will continue to partner with the governor and the legislature to find realistic and effective strategies to ensure that housing is available and affordable to all Californians.

We also agree with the governor that a sustainable, long-term revenue source is necessary to achieve our goals to increase housing supply and to end homelessness. There are both short-term and long-term strategies that will be needed to get people off the streets and into the housing that they deserve. We, as the League of California Cities, and the 482 cities we represent, stand ready to partner with the governor to get that done.

Thank you again, Governor Newsom, for joining cities today, and for your partnership with cities in addressing this crisis. It’s my pleasure to introduce Governor Newsom.

Gavin Newsom: I said it yesterday, I’ll repeat it today. Homelessness in this state is a disgrace. It is unconscionable that in the wealthiest state of the wealthiest nation, 150,000 people lay claim to being homeless. That’s a point-in-time count, and by no stretch of the imagination is it a full count. It’s an approximate count that we’ve used since 2005 to estimate the number of people that are struggling with homelessness.

This state can continue to do what it’s done: to play in the margins, abdicate direct responsibility, point fingers play around the edges. Or, it could meet this moment head on, take ownership at all levels of government—not just local, but regional, state, and national levels—and start building partnerships and capacity to get people housed and get people off the streets.

I was sharing with many of the mayors, members of many city councils, and local leaders a moment ago this remarkable moment in California’s history—where we are celebrating record reserves, consecutive months of job creating, incredible economic output, outpacing almost every other region in this county. And yet, we’re struggling with the issue of affordability that is now manifest in this homeless crisis and continues to manifest in terms of the crisis for those who are feeling the pressure of this affordability moment. We are increasingly becoming a two-class society and losing our vibrant middle class. The California American Dream is predicated on social mobility, so we need to meet this moment.

That’s why I’m here today, the day after the state of the state—putting down a marker yesterday—and today extending my hand in partnership with local government. State vision will never be realized except at the local level. Localism is determinative, and impact on the issue of housing, affordability, and homelessness needs to happen community by community all across the state of California.

I remember Father Coz at Santa Clara, the bible reminds us we have many parts but one body. When we talk about the League of Cities—482 cities, 58 counties—we talk about many parts but one body, the State of California. We have to be aligned; we have Ds and Rs behind me, and we are all members of this remarkable place we call home.

This is our moment, and not only am I fighting forward with the legislature this year, but committing to oncoming money and supports so that we can truly do justice and get people off the streets.

           

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© 2020 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.