California will spend about $30 million to build 1,200 tiny homes across the state this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday, part of a plan to house the nation’s largest homeless population and address an issue that has persistently plagued the state during the governor’s term. office time.
The homes, some just 120 square feet, can be assembled in 90 minutes and cost a fraction of what it takes to build a permanent home. Newsom said the houses can create space to help clear the homeless encampments that have sprung up in the state’s major cities. Federal courts have ruled that cities cannot clear homeless encampments if no shelter beds are available.
“We need to focus more energy and precision on dealing with the camps,” Newsom said. “There is no humanity there. People are dying in front of us.”
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Newsom announced the plans in Sacramento on the first stop of a planned four-city tour, where he has promised to make major policy announcements on housing, health care and public safety. The tour replaces the governor’s traditional State of the Union address.
Local leaders across the country have used tiny houses for years to help house their homeless populations. In San Jose, a city of nearly 1 million people at the southern end of San Francisco Bay, Mayor Matt Mahan said the city has installed 500 tiny houses in the past three years. The percentage of the city’s homeless who were homeless dropped to 75 percent from 84 percent, the first decline in years, he said.
“If you look around the world at places that have faced this challenge, it’s because they’ve increased safe places for people to go,” he said.
But critics said Newsom is spending more money on things that won’t do enough to help. Since taking office in 2019, Newsom has signed off on more than $22.3 billion in new spending on housing and homelessness programs. California’s homeless population has grown 6 percent since 2020, compared with a 0.4 percent increase in the rest of the country, according to an analysis of federal data by the Public Policy Institute of California.
California now has nearly a third of all the homeless in the United States.
“This is just another Band-Aid on a crisis that is out of control in California,” said Brian Jones, the state Senate’s Republican leader. “We know that throwing money at this problem doesn’t work.”
Sacramento will get 350 of the homes. Los Angeles will get 500, San Jose will get 200 and San Diego will get 150. While the state pays to build and install the homes, local governments will be responsible for maintaining them. This includes deciding where to place them. The homes will have electricity, but no plumbing, water or cooking appliances, according to the Governor’s Office.
Bob Erlenbush, executive director of the Sacramento Area Coalition to End Homelessness, called Newsom’s proposal a “modest step forward.” He estimated that the houses in Sacramento would be enough to house about 10% of the city’s homeless population.
“I wish elected officials, not just the governor, but more or less the state, would take a broader perspective in trying to approach the homelessness crisis and the affordable housing crisis with a sense of scale rather than a 10 percent solution.” , he said. he said.
Newsom acknowledged that criticism Thursday, saying he knows progress isn’t happening fast enough. He said tiny houses aren’t the answer, but they can help.
“It’s not just about sweeping things under the rug or kicking people off the streets and sidewalks and claiming a good job,” Newsom said. “That doesn’t do justice.”
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California’s homelessness problem is partly a byproduct of a lack of affordable housing, an issue that advocates say affects far more people than just those living on the streets.
Nathen Avelar, 18, said he has struggled with unstable housing most of his life. Avelar grew up with his mother and twin brother in the Central Valley town of Merced, where he said there are many new homes, but all are unaffordable.
For a few years, they lived in a house that was infested with mold, which aggravated his brother’s asthma and forced them to leave. They moved in with his grandmother. If not for her home, which was often shared with several other family members, Avelar said they would likely be homeless.
“I remember sometimes we’d drive around looking for houses and we’d always see these nice houses on the road and I knew we’d never be able to afford them,” she said. “It was really disappointing.”
Avelar, who worked part-time for a lobbying group that supported Newsom during a failed recall effort in 2021, said he wants the governor’s administration to build more affordable housing.
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Leaders of the state’s largest cities and counties want Sacramento to more clearly define their role in addressing homelessness and how the state will measure the success of local programs that receive state funding.
Currently, state homeless funding has “all kinds of rules that have to be put in place and half a dozen different state departments are involved in order to find a program,” said Graham Knauss, executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “This has to change. This is not government at its best.”
The union’s solution is to ask the state legislature to pass laws that clearly define local and state government responsibilities, coupled with recurring state funding for local governments each year. Knaus said the association is talking to lawmakers and the governor’s office about introducing legislation.
“We certainly shouldn’t expect to make continued progress on homelessness while using one-time funding to do it,” he said.