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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

$2 Billion Housing Plan|for California Homeless

SACRAMENTO (CN) - California lawmakers on Monday introduced a $2 billion blueprint to build homes for the state's growing homeless population just days before Gov. Jerry Brown introduces his 2016-2017 budget proposal.

The plan calls for a bond to build more than 10,000 permanent homes to address the state's homelessness emergency, and $200 million in general fund revenue for rent subsidies for the state's estimated 114,000 homeless people: equal to the population of Downey, the state's 53rd largest city, two slots behind Berkeley.

Speaking from an apartment project on Los Angeles' Skid Row, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the "No Place Like Home" housing proposal, saying it will be funded by repurposing a state income tax on Californians earning more than $1 million per year.

The $2 billion spending plan will not be sent to California voters, but will be negotiated into Brown's final budget, due in June.

De Leon said the plan "will help secure progress in tackling homelessness" and provide cities such as Los Angeles, which has 42,000 homeless people, with long-term solutions and improved mental health programs.

"Coming off the holiday season, I can think of no better way to start the legislative session than in Skid Row, focused on lifting those without voices in our political process," De Leon said.

The proposal would alter Proposition 63, s the Mental Health Services Act, which voters approved in 2004. Prop. 63 increased the income tax rate on California's wealthy to 10.3 cents from every dollar they made over $1 million, to help fund mental health programs.

Critics have long-bashed Prop. 63, claiming that mental health funding hasn't been properly disbursed or used by counties. In 2013, the California State Auditor blasted the state for failing to oversee the program, finding that regulatory agencies "rarely developed specific objectives to assess the effectiveness of program services."

Former Senate President Pro Tem and current Sacramento mayoral candidate Darrell Steinberg, who co-wrote Prop. 63, said Monday's proposal stands to make "a real difference in the lives of forgotten Californians."

"This is a tipping-point moment for mental health, homelessness and Proposition 63 in California," Steinberg said.

On Saturday, Sacramento police forcibly removed people camping out in front of City Hall to protest the city's homeless ordinances. Groups of protestors have been camping out for weeks in front of the office to which Steinberg hopes to be elected in November.

Lawmakers announced the plan on the first day of the legislative season, three days before Brown introduces his plans for the state's growing surplus. The homeless-housing proposal will have to contend with rising health care and transportation costs that caused Brown to call special sessions last year.

In November, an annual report from the Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that 2015 general fund revenue was likely to surpass Brown's budget predictions by $3.6 billion, and said the state budget is "better prepared for an economic downturn that it has been at any point in decades."

The Senate's proposal also calls for an increase in the state's Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment program, which provides income for more than 1 million poor elderly and disabled Californians.

California is home to the nation's largest homeless population. Lawmakers cited estimates that each chronically homeless person costs taxpayers as much as $100,000 per year, for emergency room visits, hospital stays and other public services. In the past several months, West Coast cities including Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland have proclaimed states of emergency to free up funding for homeless ordinances.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, told a crowd at Skid Row Monday that allowing thousands of Californians to sleep on the ground during winter is "despicable."

"It is despicable that in the richest state, that is, the state of California, that just last night thousands of Californians laid their tired bodies on a sidewalk or on a cardboard," Lara said.

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