California Governor Gavin Newsom challenged county officials to tackle the state’s homelessness crisis with clear eyes on Wednesday during his annual State of the State address, garnering praise from homeless advocates and real estate organizations alike.
Throughout the address, which the governor focused almost exclusively on the crisis, Newsom made a few proposals for ameliorating the issue. One controversial point included expanding the parameters under which counties can compel people to receive treatment for mental health issues, particularly for those who often cycle through emergency services due to mental illness and drug addiction. Newsom also asked the Legislature to expand a new law that exempts homeless shelters and supportive housing in Los Angeles from environmental review and apply it to the entire state. The law temporarily waives the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act in order to streamline and hasten construction projects.
In addition, Newsom called for changes to Proposition 63, a 1 percent millionaires income tax passed in 2004 that funds county mental health services, stressing that if local governments don’t spend that funding by June 30, the state would “make sure those dollars get spent for you.” The governor furthermore suggested a partnership with the federal government to use Medicaid funds for housing in addition to medical benefits, and promised to seek out a permanent source of revenue devoted to curtailing homelessness.
“The hard truth is for too long we ignored this problem,” Newsom said. “Most of us have experienced homelessness as a pang of guilt, not a call to action.”
“Doing nothing is no longer an option. It can’t be,” he added.
The California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) praised Governor Gavin Newsom’s address in a press release on Wednesday, stating that “The California Association of Realtors stands with Gov. Gavin Newsom and agrees that after decades of neglect we need more housing.”
“We applaud the governor’s dedication to addressing California’s housing shortage and calling on both state and local governments to get serious about increasing the state’s housing supply,” Jeanne Radsick, C.A.R. president, said in a statement. “Our state’s community of more than 200,000 Realtors join with the governor in calling for a bold housing supply agenda in 2020.”
“We believe that housing is an integral part of achieving Gov. Newsom’s bold ‘California for All’ vision,” Radsick added. “We stand ready to work with him and the legislature to make it happen by advancing polices that make homes for rent and ownership more available and affordable for all Californians.”
In January, Radsick had told Inman readers, “Our state’s future is on the line,” and made a call for immediate action to address the housing crisis.
Now, it seems as though Gov. Newsom has responded to her call.
Democratic leaders applauded Newsom’s fervor, with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins saying it was “one of the best speeches ever as it relates to what we need to focus on,” but that the Legislature would need to take a “cautious approach” in terms of implementing Newsom’s proposals in practice.
Megan Hustings, Managing Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, also expressed cautious praise of Gov. Newsom’s address in a conversation with Inman.
“We really appreciate that the governor spent so much of his address talking about homelessness, and there were some things that he said that were really motivating [like] blaming homelessness on our economic system instead of the individual, which is really true,” Hustings told Inman.
“There were a couple of things [where] I feel like the governor went off the path we prefer,” Hustings added. “Government officials making any effort to institutionalize or make any people go into healthcare — we moved away from that about 40 years ago … we know that the vast majority of people who experience homelessness do not fit into that category” of facing chronic homelessness or mental health issues.
Recently, some efforts made by the state to counter the housing shortage have not received enough support to progress.
“Just last month, we saw the state’s highest profile housing production bill, Senate Bill 50, fail to move forward,” Radsick said in a statement. “But Gov. Newsom’s leadership in calling for the state to tackle housing affordability with real actions and consequences and to eliminate roadblocks to building housing near transit, while also increasing the usability of density bonus laws are reasons to be hopeful that 2020 will finally be the year of meaningful progress on housing supply.”
“Let’s call it what it is,” Newsom said. “It’s a disgrace that the richest state, in the richest nation — succeeding across so many sectors — is falling so far behind to properly house, heal and humanely treat so many of its own people. Every day, the California dream is dimmed by the wrenching reality of families, children and seniors living unfed on a concrete bed.”