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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California looks at tiny homes, more money to cut homelessness by 2025

The Golden State has already spent $15.3 billion on its homelessness crisis in the last three years alone.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California will roll out tiny homes in four of the state’s largest cities and reward cities committed to cutting homelessness with a piece of a $1 billion prize, Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday. 

Newsom stopped in Sacramento as part of a statewide tour to announce major policy developments. To the crowd gathered at Cal Expo, Newsom focused on a key issue for most Californians: homelessness. 

The governor’s proposed budget, unveiled in January, did not make any cuts to the planned $15.3 billion homelessness package, including $3 billion in flexible aid to local governments and $3 billion in Project Homekey funding — a program to move people through transitional housing to permanent housing. 

In his address to Californians that month, Newsom pointed to a focus on affordable housing, with a goal to build 2.5 million units and make 1 million of them affordable. However, he said that he is “exhausted” with questions about why the state invests so much in homelessness. He emphasized a tougher approach to hold cities and providers to “a higher level of accountability,” adding, “We’re not just going to hand out another billion dollars in discretionary funds unless it aligns with our vision."

On Thursday, he acknowledged people are angry about what they see on the Golden State's streets, sidewalks, freeway overpasses and the sides of highways. But he noted the “$15.3 billion invested toward addressing homelessness over three years is unprecedented in the U.S.”

To further address the issue, Newsom said the state is rolling out at least 1,200 tiny homes to use as interim housing for unsheltered people. They can be assembled within one hour, depending on brand and size, and the state will help install and identify available land to place them. Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose and San Diego County will receive them. 

“We’re hoping to get them constructed in a matter of months, not years," he said. "The press may attack us if we fall short, so we’re saying in the fall.”

Newsom also said cities, counties and regional agencies across the state turned in plans committing to cut homelessness from 2% to 15% by 2025. He said they will be held accountable, to earn a piece of a new $1 billion to use toward their stated plans. 

“Remember, no money without a plan,” he said.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said his city recently signed a legally binding agreement with Sacramento County committing to employing more outreach workers to engage people who are unhoused or suffering mental health issues and coordinate the services they need.

"Despite the unprecedented commitment by this governor, we still don’t have enough beds," Steinberg said. He said in the city there are now 1,100 beds open each night, and they are always full — calling Newsom’s tiny homes “a lifesaver.”

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan agreed that "building more housing, especially affordable housing, is the long-term solution. We have a moral obligation to address the immense human suffering we see on our streets every day.”

First partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom said the state’s effort must include support for women and children, who she said are often part of “the hidden homeless population.” She said 80% of homeless mothers are victims of domestic violence, and more than half say it forced them into homelessness. One study found 18% of unhoused women reported sexual violence in the last six months, and another study said 32% of women without stable housing reported physical victimization in the previous year. 

State Assembly Housing Committee chair Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland, said the state spent decades not prioritizing affordable housing and that has changed. Lourdes Castro Ramírez, secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, said that since 2018 the state has approved nearly 60,000 permanent affordable homes, and more than 20,000 more are in the pipeline. 

But Wicks said the strategy does not end with tiny homes. “Once folks have the temporary housing, they need the long-term supportive housing as well," she said.

Assembly member Kevin McCarty, a Democrat of Sacramento, acknowledged his city's share of homeless people. “Sure, we’d love to have permanent supportive housing for 174,000 homeless across California, like the 2,000 homeless along our parkway just 100 yards behind us. But we need to focus on triaging today. We cannot wait," he said.

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