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Author: Heather Masterton

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Housing Search With a Voucher Is Difficult in Los Angeles County. A Homeless Student Received Aid for an Apartment. Then Came the Hard Part.

LOS ANGELES — Many of the apartment listings were outdated or offered scant details. Sometimes the rent was a few hundred dollars higher than advertised.

If she managed to get someone on the phone, Jacqueline Benitez would inquire about square footage, about parking, about whether the landlord might accept a rescue tabby named Kiwi.

But when she brought up her housing voucher, the tone would usually shift.

“They would say, ‘No, we do not accept Section 8, sorry.’ Or, ‘We tried Section 8 in the past, and it didn’t work for us,’” Ms. Benitez said, referring to the commonly used term for the vouchers. At 21 years old, she had found herself stuck in a loop of hope and rejection.

Landing an apartment in Los Angeles County can be an arduous journey in a region struggling with a housing shortage and homelessness crisis, where even those with steady middle-class salaries have found themselves in a rat race for a home.

For the impoverished, the search can feel ultimately impossible.

“Are you going to interrupt your search to fight every landlord who says, ‘I’m not going to rent to you because you have Section 8?’” said Nisha Vyas, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s more likely you’re going to keep trying to find someone who’s going to say yes.”

L.A. County-run hospitals could expand free and discounted care

Hospitals run by Los Angeles County could make free care available to more of their financially strapped patients under a new proposal aimed at expanding relief from medical bills.

County health officials said the proposed changes, which also include deeper discounts for other eligible patients, could ultimately benefit thousands of people in the county, yet are unlikely to have a significant effect on hospital finances.

The move comes amid ongoing concern across California about residents putting off or forgoing medical care due to the expense, despite state efforts to expand access to charity care and make sure patients know about financial assistance.

Under the proposed rules, free care would be available to eligible L.A. County residents with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level, or $60,000 for a family of four under current guidelines. The existing cutoff is 138% of the poverty level, which amounts to $41,400 for a family of four.

 

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Why We Sued to End CARE Court

An unprecedented number of Californians live on the streets and face severe mental illness. It is gut wrenching to see. The CARE Act accurately describes this humanitarian crisis but prescribes a wrong, inhumane solution. Not only is creating this new court system to round up individuals unconstitutional, it is bad policy subject to pervasive societal biases and disproven methods of treating mental illness. That is why on January 26, Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and the Public Interest Law Project sued Governor Newsom to put an end to CARE Court.

Contrary to some strong opinions that CARE Court is “California’s only real plan for helping our most vulnerable and seriously mentally ill,” Governor Newsom never planned to truly provide behavioral health treatment and housing through this bill. The CARE Act does not mandate counties to provide behavioral health treatment or housing; it creates no new rights or benefits for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders who are summoned to court to join the CARE process. Rather, all CARE Court-ordered services are “subject to available funding and all applicable federal and state statute and regulations, contractual provisions, and policy guidance governing initial and ongoing program eligibility” (Welf. & Inst. Code § 5982(d)). In other words, services will only be provided as they are available.

Here’s a reality check for Sacramento: behavioral health and housing services are not available to all Californians. A person who needs treatment and housing usually cannot receive either in a timely manner because there are not enough mental health providers, facilities, and affordable housing units to access.

A UCSF study projected that if nothing significant changes by 2028, California will have 50% fewer psychiatrists to meet demand for behavioral health services, and 28% fewer psychologists, therapists, and social workers combined to meet the demand. We see this play out daily with stark disparities based on income and race. For example, in Compton, there are only five licensed psychologists compared to Santa Monica, which has 361.

Compounding CARE Court’s false promises is the affordable housing shortage. There is a shortage of 1 million affordable rental homes for extremely low income renters. And the CARE Act does not appropriate one single penny for housing.

The CARE Act pretends this backlog of services and housing does not exist, despite advocates’ cries to increase funding for our behavioral health systems and affordable housing instead of funding new courts. If we invested in behavioral health and housing to their full level of need, and give some time for the workforce to catch up, we would already have a better plan than CARE Court.

So, if not guaranteeing behavioral health or housing services, what does the CARE Act provide? The law paves the way to eventually institutionalize people who are unhoused and have schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, out of sight from the very people who support CARE Court.

The biggest lie about CARE Court is that it is not involuntary treatment. CARE Court is an involuntary, coercive system. There are consequences for not following through with a CARE plan. When a person does not comply with the exact terms of a CARE plan, the court must refer the person for conservatorship with “a presumption . . . the [person] needs additional intervention beyond the supports and services provided by the CARE plan” (Welf. & Inst. Code § 5979(a)(3)). A person who, for any reason, does not follow through their court order, would more easily be conserved and lose their rights to control their own medical care, finances, and housing preferences. No matter how Governor Newsom and his proponents want to spin CARE Court, the law speaks for itself.

Existing laws already provide for involuntary treatment of persons found dangerous to themselves or others. But the CARE Act takes this a giant step further by permitting a judge to impose restrictions on persons deemed “likely” to become dangerous. Little guidance is offered for judges to make that speculative determination.

The CARE Act was enacted despite any evidence that it would be effective. As Disability Rights California wrote in May 2022 on behalf of our coalition opposing the CARE Act, voluntary treatment works and involuntary treatment does not:

[N]o studies exist to prove that a court order for outpatient treatment in and of itself has any independent effect on client outcomes. Studies show that any positive effects that result from outpatient commitment are due to the provision of intensive services, and whether court orders have any effect at all in the absence of intensive treatment is an unanswered question.

In determining how we provide medical care and housing for Californians, our civil rights and social policies can co-exist. The state should house people first, then let people decide their course of treatment. The Legislature has not explained why it cannot appropriate resources to fund all medically necessary care and permanent affordable housing for individuals and also protect their dignity and privacy interests at the same time. What is clear is that faced at a moral crossroads, Governor Newsom and the Legislature chose a more politically expedient route instead of a benevolent and effective one.

Update on ACCE, PolicyLink, and SAJE v. California Housing and Community Development

In June 2022, ACCE and SAJE, and PolicyLink, filed a lawsuit against California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for administering ERAP in an opaque and discriminatory way and for refusing to provide adequate explanation to tenants who were denied assistance. In July 2022, a judge agreed that the denial notices HCD sent out are too vague, that applicants have no meaningful way to appeal, and that HCD indefensibly refused to tell applicants which of their documents led to denial. The court then ordered HCD not to deny any pending rental assistance applications as of July 2022 until the court can determine if HCD’s process meets constitutional due process standards. Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Covington & Burling represent the Petitioners.

As of January 19, 2023, HCD has not provided the Court with a notice that meets due process standards.  Currently, HCD is still not allowed to deny any pending applications that do not meet due process. However, nothing is stopping HCD from continuing to process applications, approve applications, or issue payments to approved applicants. We urge you to continue contacting HCD if you were approved but have not yet received payment, or if your application has been pending since 2021. If you need legal assistance, you can find legal resources in your area at LawHelpCA.org. You can also reach out to your state representatives to tell them your story and how HCD is holding up much needed emergency assistance to vulnerable Californians.

2023-24 Housing and Homelessness Budget Blueprint for Impact

Sent February 6th, 2023

The Honorable Gavin Newsom Governor of California

Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Assembly Budget Chair Philip Ting

Senate Budget Chair Nancy Skinner

 

Re: 2023-24 Housing and Homelessness Budget Blueprint for Impact

Dear Governor Newsom, Senate President pro Tempore Atkins, Assembly Speaker Rendon, Assembly Budget Chair Ting, and Senate Budget Chair Skinner:

As you know, California’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing our state and its residents. You have demonstrated your commitment to addressing this crisis through several years of historic investments and enacting meaningful policy change. We write to you as a united coalition of California’s leading affordable housing, homelessness, and housing justice organizations to propose a set of investments that should serve as a blueprint for housing investment in the 2023-24 budget.

We share your commitment to ensuring everyone in every community has access to a safe, stable, affordable home. However, to continue to build on our progress we must go beyond the investment signaled in the Governor’s January budget proposal and invest at a greater scale in deeply affordable housing development, preservation, homelessness, tenant protection, and affordable homeownership.

We recognize the complex, difficult choices the Administration and the Legislature face in the months ahead in confronting a major projected budget deficit, and appreciate the Administration’s commitment to maintaining many of the planned housing and homelessness investments committed in last year’s budget. We also know from previous deficits and recessions that economic downturns are precisely the times when we must invest in resources for our most marginalized neighbors to prevent our housing and homelessness crisis, and its disproportionate impact on people of color, from worsening. Now is the time to build on our momentum in securing a more stable and affordable California.

We are collectively calling for investing $7.9 billion in a critical continuum of housing production, preservation, and homelessness programs to advance housing affordability and economic resilience in California. Our coalition stands by this full suite of investments as a holistic package that can ensure that our state continues to build and preserve deeply affordable housing to address our shortfall of over a million affordable units for people with extremely low incomes, prevent people from falling into homelessness and solve homelessness for thousands of our neighbors living on our sidewalks and in shelters, and address the disproportionate harms of skyrocketing housing costs, housing instability, and homelessness on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color living in poverty.

$7.9 Billion Investment Strategy to Build on Progress on California’s Affordable Housing Goals

● $4 billion to unlock and accelerate production of 35,275 new affordable homes. We propose doubling the current state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program (LIHTC) with an additional $500 million beyond what was allocated in the 2022-2023 state budget. We also urge appropriating $2 billion to the Multifamily Housing Program (MHP) and $1.5 billion to the California Housing Accelerator Program (CHAP) and that HCD be given the authority, with DOF approval, to transfer amounts between these two programs in line with demand. Using a portion of MHP funds for capitalized operating subsidies or in conjunction with augmented HHAP allocations for operating subsidies would allow a significant portion of these funds to provide housing for extremely and acutely low-income households, where the greatest need currently exists.

● $2 billion in additional funding for the Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Program (HHAP) in 2023-2024 for a total of $3 billion in ongoing funding for future years, allowing 94,000 households to exit homelessness. This funding will provide local jurisdictions and Continuums of Care (CoCs) with adequate resources to rehouse about 20,000 households experiencing homelessness in year one, increasing to rehousing or preventing homelessness for 94,000 households annually by year five, by focusing investment on solutions like rental subsidies, services to help sustain housing, and homeless prevention programs that keep the most marginalized populations from falling into homelessness. Much of this funding can pay for operating costs of deeply affordable housing also created through this proposal, making state capital funding more effective. The Bring California Home Coalition is proposing pairing this funding with programmatic changes to enhance accountability, drive successful long-term outcomes, eliminate racial disparities, and advance workforce capacity and equity across local homeless response systems

● $1 billion to prevent displacement and homelessness for low-income households and preserve new affordable homes, to include:

○ $500 million for the Community Anti-Displacement and Preservation Program (CAPP) as proposed in Senate Bill 225 (Caballero) to spur the preservation of 3,600 homes, preserving low-income housing for 39,600 households over the next 55 years. This program will prevent displacement and homelessness by financing the acquisition of naturally occurring affordable rental housing and preserving it as permanently affordable. Acquisition preservation directly prevents low-income families from being displaced and potentially falling into homelessness today while also investing in expanding the supply of deed-restricted affordable homes for generations to come. CAPP fills a state funding gap where there are not currently resources to support this type and scale of acquisition preservation.

○ $500 million for a targeted rental subsidy program to prevent and end homelessness and displacement for over 13,500 older adults and people with disabilities each year, over four years. As proposed in Senate Bill 37 (Caballero), this funding will create a grant program to prevent the inflow of older adults and people with disabilities, the fastest-growing populations falling into homelessness, and help these populations exit homelessness.

● $500 million for affordable homeownership production through the CalHome Program to provide homeownership opportunities to 5,000 low-income Californians. CalHome is the only state homeownership program with funding dedicated to the construction of new owner-occupied homes for low-income families. CalHome supports programs prioritizing homeownership in various forms for low-income families so they can build equity, increase community stability, and gain the multi-generational benefits of owning a home.

● $200 million to support the affordable housing needs of farmworker and tribal communities. This allocation should include $100 million for farmworker housing development through the Joe Serna Farmworker Housing Grant Program. Farmworkers face significant housing disparities and require resources to ensure safe, quality housing that supports migrant families and make a life-changing difference in their children’s health and educational outcomes. These investments should also include $100 million for a new Tribal Housing Grant Program to help finance homes for rent or purchase on tribal trust and fee land and meet the unique housing, land, and sovereignty conditions of California tribes that are not being met by existing state housing programs.

● $200 million a year for 2 years for resources to help tenants utilize federal Housing Choice Vouchers through landlord recruitment, services, and resources to connect landlords and tenants. These programs have succeeded around the country in increasing voucher utilization and access for voucher holders.

● In addition, we support the augmentation of funding for the Civil Rights Department (CRD) included in the Governor’s January budget proposal to support investigation and enforcement of complaints related to SB 329 (Mitchell, Chapter 600, Statutes of 2019), which prohibited landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants with housing vouchers and other forms of public rental assistance. CRD receives upwards of 800 voucher discrimination complaints every year but does not have sufficient staff to process them all. Expanding enforcement of the state’s voucher non-discrimination law will increase the utilization and effectiveness of both federal- and state-funded rental subsidies.

We realize that these budget requests exceed what is outlined in Governor Newsom’s January budget proposal, but are eager to work with the Administration and the Legislature to seek collaborative and creative approaches, including through exploring new, dedicated revenue sources, to provide long-term funding solutions to our housing crisis. Together, we can ensure that deeply affordable housing units do not continue to languish in the pipeline, unhoused Californians need not wait months or years to access an affordable and accessible housing option, and we stem the inflow of Californians into homelessness through protecting their rights and preserving their affordable housing options. As such, our coalition stands fully committed to advocating for this full spectrum of housing and homelessness programs as a package. We recommend that any housing and homelessness investments beyond those proposed in the Governor’s January budget reflect the proportionality of the requests in this letter.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership and partnership in creating a more affordable and equitable California. We look forward to working together closely on the budget this year.

 

California’s Riverside County Agrees to Reimburse Families $540K in Juvenile Detention Fees

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Para ver esta información en español, haz clic aqui

Settlement Website, click here

January 31, 2023

Contacts:

Willis Jacobson, National Center for Youth Law: [email protected]

Estevan Montemayor, Western Center on Law and Poverty: [email protected]

 

CALIFORNIA’S RIVERSIDE COUNTY AGREES TO REIMBURSE FAMILIES $540K IN JUVENILE DETENTION FEES

Riverside County families who were subjected to illegal collection of juvenile fees moved a step closer toward justice — in the form of cash reimbursements — after a court this month granted preliminary approval of a settlement in a class action lawsuit they brought against the County.

The lawsuit, Freeman v. County of Riverside, alleged that the County did not follow California law and the U.S. Constitution when it charged millions of dollars in fees to families who had children in juvenile detention. Under state law, the County was obligated to ensure families had the ability to pay fees they were assessed and inform families of their right to challenge the fees. The plaintiffs claimed that the County failed to fulfill these legal duties. The families are represented by the National Center for Youth Law and the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

After the families filed their complaint in court in March 2020, the County agreed to stop collecting $4.1 million in outstanding juvenile detention and administrative fees. The parties have now negotiated a settlement, in which the County agrees to pay $540,307 to reimburse more than 1,200 class members for the fee payments they made.

“The County’s practices have had a devastating effect on families,” said Michael Harris, an attorney and Senior Director of Legal Advocacy and Justice and Equity at the National Center for Youth Law. “This settlement will offer those families meaningful relief and deter Riverside County and other jurisdictions from illegally assessing and collecting money from struggling families.”

The settlement, if finalized, would mark a major victory for families in Riverside County, some of whom have been caught in decades-long cycles of financial turmoil as a result of the County’s collection practices. Plaintiffs Shirley and Daniel Freeman are among those from whom the County pursued for more than 10 years to collect fees related to their grandson’s time in juvenile detention. “The settlement gives recognition to what happened to us and other families,” said Shirley and Daniel Freeman. “We are pleased that the lawsuit helped families by canceling amounts they still owed and now the settlement will return some of the money that was collected from them.”

“Even when state law requires consideration of ability to pay, individuals and their families are frequently burdened with debt they’re unable to pay. These fees cause significant harm to families, undermining community health and trust in public institutions,” said Rebecca Miller, Senior Litigator with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “This case shows why fees should not be charged to individuals involved in the juvenile justice system.”

Families from whom Riverside County collected juvenile detention fees will receive mailed notice about the proposed class action settlement in the coming weeks. Parents and guardians who believe they might be members of the class action entitled to relief under the settlement should visit the Settlement Administrator’s website at www.riversidejuvenilefees.com or call (833) 472-1997.

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The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation’s approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves. For more information, visit www.youthlaw.org.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit www.wclp.org.

JOINT PRESS RELEASE: Lawsuit Challenges San Bernardino County Approval of Polluting Warehouse Near Schools, Homes

 

Contact:

Hallie Kutak, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7117, [email protected]
Nisha Vyas, Western Center on Law and Poverty, (213) 235-2621, [email protected]
Mary Ann Ruiz, Sierra Club, [email protected]
Miranda Fox, Earthjustice, (415) 283-2324, [email protected]

Lawsuit Challenges San Bernardino County Approval of Polluting Warehouse Near Schools, Homes

BLOOMINGTON, Calif.— Environmental justice and conservation groups sued San Bernardino County today for approving a Bloomington warehouse complex without adequately addressing the harms it will cause to air quality, public health and housing.

Today’s lawsuit asserts that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved a 213-acre business park to accommodate a massive warehouse and distribution center. The Bloomington Business Park would add more than 8,555 vehicle trips per day — including diesel truck traffic — to an area already referred to as a “diesel death zone” because of the influx of massive warehouses nearby.

In November the board of supervisors greenlit the project on a site the size of 173 football fields near low-income communities, communities of color and three schools. According to state data, the project area already has an overall pollution burden that is heavier than 94% of the state.

“The county’s approval of this project is not only unlawful — it is disproportionately harmful to a community that is already overburdened,” said Candice Youngblood of Earthjustice. “In the last several years, especially as e-commerce has boomed, we’ve seen the freight logistics industry sprawl across the Inland Empire. At this point, these warehouses are in folks’ backyard. The residence closest to this project site is only 11 feet away.”

“Residents in and around Bloomington already breathe some of the nation’s dirtiest air, but San Bernardino County wants to pile on still more pollution,” said Hallie Kutak, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of keeping young children and frontline communities safe, county leaders are allowing industrial developers to turn this neighborhood into a toxic zone. This trend of prioritizing warehouses over residents has got to stop.”

The county’s environmental review failed to consider and mitigate the air quality, greenhouse gas, traffic, noise and other environmental concerns caused by the increased truck traffic this project would bring to the area. These concerns were expressed by many individuals and organizations, including the California Air Resources Board.

“The county has once again ignored the health and safety of residents by approving this project that will add to the cumulative air quality impacts of diesel trucking in this corridor,” said Mary Ann Ruiz, chair of the San Gorgonio Chapter at the Sierra Club. “Concerns from community members and our environmental justice partners were ignored, and our county supervisors must be held accountable.”

“The environmental and health concerns of Bloomington residents have been neglected by the San Bernardino County planning staff and board of supervisors time and time again,” said Alejandra Gonzalez, member of the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice. “Building warehouses in the middle of our neighborhood strips us of our right to breathe clean air and these buildings encroach upon our homes, schools and ultimately our freedom. The approval of the Bloomington Business Park is a deliberate act of disrespect to the children, seniors and families who will continue to call Bloomington their home long after the land that currently houses horses, chickens and gardens becomes home to pallets, forklifts and machinery.”

Despite the county’s dire need for safe and affordable housing, it rezoned existing residential land to accommodate this industrial development, requiring at least 100 homes to be demolished and their occupants to be displaced. Other households near the project will face environmental and other harmful constraints.

Today’s lawsuit also argues that the county’s approval of the project violates fair housing laws intended to protect vulnerable communities from discrimination and requiring the county to, among other things, lift barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on national origin and other protected characteristics.

“We hoped that the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors had the consciousness and convictions to never allow this to happen in an already overburdened community that is majority Latino low-income families, but they voted for it with no deliberation or consideration to public concerns of displacement and perpetuation of environmental racism,” said Ana Gonzalez, executive director of Center for Community Action Environmental Justice.

“There is no evidence that the county analyzed the project’s impacts on the primarily Latinx households that will be directly displaced by the project or in close proximity to the project,” said Nisha Vyas, an attorney with Western Center on Law and Poverty. “Nor did the county consider that this community will disproportionately bear the ongoing environmental, health, and housing harms caused by the Bloomington Business Park.”

Today’s lawsuit was filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court on behalf of the PCEJ, CCAEJ, Sierra Club and the Center. The Community Action and Environmental Justice is represented by Earthjustice; PCEJ is represented by Earthjustice and The Western Center on Law and Poverty; and the Sierra Club is represented by the Law Office of Abigail Smith.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Groups sue to block Newsom’s CARE Courts program for severe mental illness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Civil rights groups are challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new court program for people with severe mental illness.

Three groups — Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and The Public Interest Law Project — filed a petition to the California Supreme Court on Thursday challenging the constitutionality of the CARE Courts program, which Newsom designed, championed, and signed into law last year.

Civil rights groups file lawsuit to block Newsom’s plan for treating people with mental illness

A coalition of disability and civil rights advocates filed a lawsuit Thursday asking the California Supreme Court to block the rollout of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s far-reaching new plan to address severe mental illness by compelling treatment for thousands of people.

In their filing, representatives from three organizations — Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Public Interest Law Project — asked the state’s high court to strike down as unconstitutional the program known as CARE Court (for Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment). The groups argue that the sweeping new court system will violate due process and equal protection rights under the state constitution, while “needlessly burdening fundamental rights to privacy, autonomy and liberty.”

Newsom announced CARE Court in March as a new strategy to help an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 Californians struggling with severe mental health disorders like schizophrenia access housing, treatment and mental health services. It was signed into law in September as Senate Bill 1338.

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Blocked calls may keep Californians from benefits they need. New bill would fix that.

When contacting people regarding social service programs, counties would not be able to use blocked numbers under a new bill proposed in the California Legislature this year.

From Assemblymember Laurie Davies, R-Laguna Niguel, the bill would require calls made by counties or on behalf of counties to an applicant or recipient of a social services benefits program to be made using a displayed number. A majority use blocked, or masked, numbers, her office said.

Davies said immigrants, people with disabilities and elderly residents, in particular, may not answer calls from a blocked number — and they could then be denied needed benefits.