California Leaders Decry Homeless Crisis, Call For ‘Right to Housing’ Bill

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the Los Angeles Business Council housing summit Friday that he would support a statewide legal imperative for California cities to provide housing for residents. (Photo by MARTIN MACIAS JR./Courthouse News Service)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The mayors of Oakland, Sacramento and Los Angeles said at a housing policy summit Friday that curbing the state’s homelessness and housing affordability crises requires legislative action making housing a right for all Californians.

The Golden State’s housing crisis continues to deepen with the state coming up 3.5 million units short to meet demand and over half of renters in the state considered “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend at least 30% of their income on housing.

Many cities struggle to shelter the thousands of homeless people on their streets. In June, Los Angeles reported a 16% increase in its homeless population while also finding that a third of renters spend more than half their income on housing.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a Mayoral Housing, Transportation & Jobs Summit panel that the California Dream is moving farther out of reach for residents.

“Where we’ve failed most is in our housing, which is where the change in the California Dream has been most dramatic,” Garcetti said to a crowd at the University of California at Los Angeles’ conference center. “It is the prism through which we refract the promise and peril of the California Dream.”

Garcetti’s comments come days after a Los Angeles Business Council poll found that 95% of voters in LA County consider homelessness to be a “serious” issue.

Two-thirds of the 901 surveyed residents also said they disagree with how a pair of voter-approved tax measures – Measures HHH and H – have been used in housing projects, including 41% who say funds are being spent “very ineffectively.”

On any given day, at least 59,000 people are homeless in LA County while health officials estimate that an average of three homeless people die each day.

Garcetti acknowledged the stress that housed and unhoused residents feel and said that while city efforts to stem the crisis are working, it isn’t fast enough to capture the 150 people on average who become homeless everyday in the county.

“We are not building enough housing, and not building it in enough places or on the income spectrum either,” Garcetti said.

Co-panelists Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Garcetti in calling for a statewide, legal mandate to provide housing for residents.

That housing may come in the form of a shelter bed, placement in transitional housing or living in an accessory dwelling unit but the legal imperative would push cities into action, the panelists said.

That framework is different from “right to shelter” policies that require local governments to construct enough shelter beds for residents, often before they can enforce anti-camping laws.

Steinberg told panel moderator Bill Witte, CEO of Related California, he supports amending the state constitution to enact the legal imperative.

“We need to drive towards the only North Star that matters and that is to drive people into housing so they can reclaim their lives,” said Steinberg, who co-chairs a statewide homeless task force with Ridley-Thomas.

Schaaf told the panel that cities need to ensure there is a supply of housing to comply with a legal imperative to provide it and that they shouldn’t lose sight of not having to rely on shelters.

“A right to shelter is about hiding the problem,” Schaaf said. “A right to housing is about solving it.”

Ridley-Thomas said shelters provide emergency housing and services that prevent homeless people from dying on the street.

“We need these shelters in order to prevent deaths,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Urgency is what we need to be governed by.”

California will have a $7 billion budget surplus next year on top of a $22 billion rainy day fund, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Panelists called on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to dip into the state’s coffers to support housing construction and services for the homeless.

“A lot of our tax dollars went into the state’s rainy day fund,” Garcetti said. “Well, it’s pouring.”

Newsom, who campaigned on a promise to bring down housing costs for residents, signed a state budget this year that includes at least $1 billion for services and housing for the growing homeless population.

When President Donald Trump criticized liberal policies for contributing to homelessness and proposed sweeping the homeless into federal facilities, Newsom said he welcomed federal investment towards the state’s housing goals.

Trump administration officials toured LA facilities in September that provide housing and services to the homeless.

California lawmakers approved a bill this year capping rent increases and providing protections to tenants but the move was criticized by state Republicans who said it will dissuade developers and drive-up housing construction costs.

Silicon Valley titans Apple, Facebook and Google have responded to the housing crunch with billion dollar investments in housing programs, such as a $2.5 billion commitment by Apple this month.

Critics of the move have said tech giants have exacerbated the housing affordability crisis by attracting high-earning employees to cities that are crunched by the housing demand.

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