Homelessness in California is among the worst in the nation, and the Governor of California would like the entire nation to know they have a hand in the problem.
On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in announcing a new task force to study the homelessness problem in the state, called the problem “a national disgrace” and proposed taking a chunk of the state budget to address the issue.
Newsom has proposed spending about $1 billion in the state budget on programs to tackle homelessness, including providing $650 million to local governments for emergency shelters and other services. He also wants to spend money on programs for homeless college students and legal protections for people facing evictions.
Meanwhile, major housing legislation has faltered in the Legislature in recent weeks.
A measure to expand rent control stalled, and the chairman of a key Senate committee held back a closely watched proposal that would have waived zoning rules in some neighborhoods to allow for more housing, such as around public transportation.
Supporters argue that such measures are key to preventing homelessness and creating more housing.
Newsom choosing to bring the entire nation into the disgrace stemming from California’s poor leadership is an interesting move, likely designed to make the case to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that allocation of more funding using their McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants (or a similar program) is in the national interest.
And it’s a smart move because housing is one of the driving problems of homelessness in the state.
California does not have enough homes: Homeownership is at its lowest rate since the 1940s. The lack of housing has had serious consequences for California citizens, as downward pressure from affluent renters and homebuyers has pushed low-income residents into precarious economic conditions, one catastrophe away from homelessness. About 554,000 people in the United States were homeless in 2017, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development — and 25% of them lived in California.
In California as a whole, housing production has been declining while the population has grown. About 80,000 homes have been built per year over the last decade, far below the amount needed to keep up with its growing population. Families making less than $118,000 now qualify as “low-income” in San Francisco, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But calling the problem a national problem is as disingenuous as it gets because, as Steven Greenhut, the Western region director for Washington, DC-based R Street Institute tells the National Catholic Register, homelessness is strongly correlated to a lack of homes and is the result of California state leadership’s regulation-happy approach to policy.
The state bears a significant responsibility for the lack of housing, Greenhut said.
“We’ve screwed up the whole housing market through all these regulations,” Greenhut said.
Local fees on building can add an additional 6% to 18% to the cost of a home. Energy-efficiency regulations add to the cost of a home as well: A recently enacted California rule mandating solar panels on nearly all new home construction will add about $10,000 to the total cost. In Los Angeles, energy-efficiency requirements increase building costs by 10%. In areas with particularly severe homelessness crises, land is expensive and construction costs are high, making housing even more expensive.
There are other factors that contribute to homeless in California, of course. But for Newsom to effectively blame the rest of the country for California’s bad policies and willingness to allow homelessness to become the crisis it now is, is purely cynical politics.