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Category: Housing

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How LA can make an immediate impact on homelessness

In this op-ed: Western Center’s Executive Director, Paul Tepper, explains how California counties can get thousands of people housed in the immediate future: increase General Relief/ Assistance for adults in poverty.

In L.A. County, the amount hasn’t increased since the 80’s. It’s $221/ month.



Anya Lawler appointed to Governor Newsom’s homelessness task force

We are proud to report that Western Center housing advocate Anya Lawler will be a part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s new homelessness task force. The group will “advise the Administration on solutions to address the state’s homelessness epidemic. Once convened, these leaders will join Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in meetings across the state to assist local governments in crafting their regional strategies to address homelessness, with a particular focus on homelessness prevention and early intervention.”

Anya has been a housing policy advocate on behalf of low-income Californians for decades — her experience and priorities will be invaluable in the administration’s pursuit to end California’s homelessness crisis.

Read the Governor’s press release here.

Western Center submits comments opposing HUD anti-immigrant rule proposal

The comment period has ended for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed rule to deny housing assistance to “mixed-status” families that include undocumented or otherwise ineligible individuals. The change would leave families with the choice of kicking out undocumented family members from their household, or completely losing assistance, which would also significantly impact many children who are U.S. citizens.

Western Center is strongly opposed to the rule; if implemented, it will have a devastating impact on over 25,000 families, and will create decades of generational instability and poverty. California in particular cannot afford for this rule to be implemented in the midst of our housing crisis. “Mixed-status” families are the backbone of our state; imposing this kind of baseless cruelty and instability is not only morally bankrupt, it is also devoid of common sense.

An excerpt from our comment is below. The full letter can be read here.

“As California’s oldest and largest legal services support center, we have over 50 years’ experience fighting to reduce poverty in our state through the courts, the legislature, and by working with state and local agencies to ensure our laws are fair and justly implemented. We can speak directly to which federal and state policies serve to reduce poverty in our communities and benefit our state and country as a whole and which policies worsen poverty, penalize families struggling to make ends meet, and hurt us all. HUD’s proposed rule threatens to exacerbate poverty by evicting over 25,000 families with mixed immigration status, betraying this country’s promise of opportunity in favor of an unreasoned, unworkable policy. Almost ten thousand of those families are in California. The rule should be withdrawn.”

California officials shouldn’t be ‘stunned’ by rising homelessness in Los Angeles (or anywhere else)

By Alexander “Sasha” Harnden, Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty

As results from recent homelessness counts from cities and counties across California are released, showing large increases in unsheltered populations, public officials are reportedly “stunned,” “shocked,” and “alarmed” by the numbers.

No one in California who has followed the efforts to increase protections for tenants, ease rising rents and housing instability, and encourage proven solutions to homelessness should be shocked or stunned by our state’s increasing homelessness. It is predictable, expected, and the natural result of our legislature’s failure to enact reasonable reforms in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe.

We should not be shocked, but we should all be alarmed.

We’ve all seen recent stories about how local expenditures on homeless services haven’t put a dent in the crisis because those efforts are frustrated by new families falling into homelessness. We’ve read stories about rising rent burdens, inappropriate evictions of long-term tenants, and the large proportions of today’s homeless population who aren’t homeless because of mental illness or substance abuse but because of economic factors beyond their control. We’ve read about the outsized power wielded by interest groups representing landlords, the real estate industry, and housing speculators, and about our state’s inability to enact meaningful tenant protections.

And yet, despite the clear connection between these stories, California officials find themselves “shocked” and “stunned” by the inevitable increase in homelessness that flows from these conditions, and from the inability or unwillingness to address them.

Just last month, the California State Assembly failed to bring a measure up for a floor vote that would have required “just cause” for landlords to evict tenants. AB 1481, authored by Assembly members Tim Grayson and Rob Bonta, would have required that landlords state an allowable reason when forcing a tenant to leave their home. The bill would have permitted evictions for virtually any legitimate reason, such as a tenant’s bad conduct, failure to perform obligations, or the landlord’s desire to do something different with their property. Despite this, and against the backdrop of our housing crisis, the bill lacked the legislative support needed to even come up for a vote on the Assembly floor.

Senate Bill 529, by Senator Maria Elena Durazo, which would have protected tenants’ right to organize in response to conditions in their buildings, failed by one vote. AB 36, by Assembly member Richard Bloom, which would have made basic reforms to restrictions on local rent control policies, wasn’t even debated in its first policy committee. And Assembly member David Chiu’s AB 1482, which would put a ceiling on rent increases, was significantly amended so that it could pass the Assembly floor.

Opportunities still remain for California’s legislature to demonstrate a serious commitment to tackling our homelessness crisis this year. AB 1482, despite recent amendments, will put the brakes on the most outrageous rent increases; there are numerous examples of tenants receiving increases doubling or even tripling their monthly rent.

Western Center is co-sponsoring another bill, SB 329 by Senator Holly Mitchell, to increase access to existing units for low-income renters who receive housing assistance — a proven solution to homelessness. The bill would add housing assistance as a protected source of income under our state’s anti-discrimination laws, meaning landlords could no longer discriminate against a housing applicant just because they get help to pay their rent. Similar policies have been adopted in local jurisdictions and other states, and have been shown to drastically improve access to quality housing for assisted families.

We should all be alarmed by rising homelessness in our communities. All of us are served by supportive communities where all our neighbors have a stable place to call home, and all of us are affected by the insecurity and instability wrought by rising rents and a lack of tenant protections. These are the factors that lead directly to rising homelessness, strains on our social service systems, and public health and safety issues — for sheltered and unsheltered residents alike. As we work to increase the production of needed affordable units – particularly at the lowest income levels – we must also ensure families are protected from rising rents, arbitrary eviction and discrimination, or we run the risk of continuing the cycle of homelessness and half measures.

Until we take the steps required to solve the problems leading to increased homelessness, we should not be shocked or stunned to see new neighbors living on the streets. What should alarm us all is the failure to implement proven solutions for the state, in the midst of a housing crisis that affects every single one of us.

San Francisco to consider forced treatment for mentally ill addicts

San Francisco supervisors were expected to consider a proposal Tuesday that could force drug addicts with serious mental illnesses into treatment.

Mayor London Breed and other supporters of the proposal say the move — known as conservatorship — is necessary to help addicts who are often homeless and suffering from a mental illness, making them a danger to themselves.

…Jen Flory, a policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Policy, which lobbies on behalf of poor people, said it’s no accident that the most expensive cities in California are seeing more people with serious problems on the streets.

Her organization opposes the San Francisco measure, saying there are insufficient services available to make it work. She hopes people are offered outpatient services with fewer restrictions.

“These are very difficult people to house, but what works is to continually try to work with somebody until something works,” she said. “We don’t know of forced models that work.”

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Western Center teams up with The Last Black Man in San Francisco for community workshop

The Last Black Man in San Francisco tells the story of Jimmie Fails, a black man fighting to maintain his place in his hometown of San Francisco. Western Center fights every day for people in communities like those highlighted in the film, so we teamed up with the filmmakers for a community storytelling workshop in Bayview — one of the last working class neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Jimmie Fails and Joe Talbot shared their experience making the movie, from childhood conversations to the Sundance Film Festival. Workshop attendees also shared their stories, from spoken word to rap.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is in theaters this summer, so be sure to put it on your summer movie list!

A California bill to expand eviction protections sputters on the Assembly floor

A proposal to protect rent-paying, lease-abiding tenants from eviction stalled on Thursday after its authors conceded they could not drum up the 41 votes it needed to pass out of the state Assembly before a key legislative deadline this week.

…On the other side of the debate are those who view tenant protections as essential to curbing homelessness, which has risen dramatically in recent years amid steep rent increases and a lack of affordable housing. Too many people are being evicted from their rental homes, said Sasha Harnden of the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Having nowhere to go from there,” he said, many are driven onto the street.

Still, Harnden said he was relieved the Assembly passed at least one of the pro-tenant proposals. “Regardless of what else happens, the rent cap bill is significant,” he said. “It puts the brakes on the biggest rent increases we’re seeing that are outside the normal course of business. We view getting the notice for a 100 percent rent increase basically the same as an eviction notice: It’s time to go.”

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California Democrats “Dropped the Ball” on Housing Package

California’s housing crisis is more dire than ever, but state lawmakers have continued to kick the can down the road.

Significant amendments to ambitious tenant protection policies have hamstrung legislative efforts to temper California’s acute housing crisis. Even in early committee drafts, the California legislature has either watered down or dismissed bills that would establish modest rent caps, reduce evictions, and provide emergency rent subsidies for renters at risk of homelessness. Similarly, efforts to jump-start housing production have stalled in Sacramento, despite Governor Gavin Newsom’s bold campaign promise to build 3.5 million new homes. Critics across the political spectrum are blaming California’s highest-ranking Democrats, Governor Newsom and Senate President pro tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), for a failure to lead on the issue.

…“We’re bailing out a sinking ship without plugging in the hole,” said Alexander Harnden, Policy Advocate for the Western Center for Law and Poverty. “Tenant protections are necessary to make sure that as we’re building housing, we’re also keeping people stably housed to make sure we’re not adding to the problem.” Harnden explained that the Western Center was supportive of efforts to expand affordable housing, and was not opposed to more aggressive production efforts, but the main focus of their coalition in this legislative session was on tenant protections.

“Generally, we’re seeing that tenant protections are one of the hardest things to get through the legislative process,” Harnden said. “If we don’t address that, we are just going to get the same increases we’ve seen in homelessness.”

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