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Gov. Gavin Newsom talked big on housing. How has he stacked up so far?

When Gov. Gavin Newsom took office in January, armed with big promises and bold ideas to fix the state’s drastic shortage of homes, housing advocates were so hopeful they were almost giddy.

…“I think it’s good to have goals, but that amount of production I think would require production rates that we’ve literally never seen even at the most robust in California,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate specializing in land use for the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “So I don’t think it’s doable in that amount of time.”

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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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Dr. Drew Midday Live

Western Center’s Executive Director Paul Tepper on the radio with Dr. Drew to talk about homelessness in Los Angeles.

Western Center and partners hold City of Los Angeles accountable for creating new units for unhoused Angelenos

Western Center, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), and the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), have succeeded in holding the Los Angeles City Council accountable for ensuring that Measure HHH funding is used for the creation of new housing for the city’s growing unhoused population, and that existing low-income renters are not displaced in the process.

Measure HHH was approved by voters in 2016 to address the alarming rise in homelessness in the city, with the intention to build 10,000 new units of supportive housing. Supportive housing provides not only a place for people to live, but also the services they need to maintain stability. However, Western Center and our partners became aware of potential issues regarding the misuse of HHH funds, when it was brought to our attention that the city’s HHH pilot project would allow for the provision of funding for renovations, without the creation of new housing. A few weeks later, we discovered that low-income residents of the Royal Park Hotel, which was once a residential motel, had been kicked out so the owner could sell the property. A developer then acquired the building using $10 million in HHH funding, with the intention of renovating the building to house homeless veterans.

The displacement of the Royal Park Motel tenants was exactly the situation Western Center, LAFLA, and LA CAN were concerned about when we discovered that the city was considering renovation projects for the HHH pilot project. Residential hotels and motels provide a critical source of unsubsidized housing that people who would otherwise be homeless can live in. Like supportive housing, they are a critical piece of the housing puzzle. So, while we are certainly not opposed to rehabilitating old buildings to keep them in habitable condition for existing residents, it is paramount that Measure HHH funding be used explicitly for its original intent – the creation of new units to house the city’s growing population of unhoused individuals. That undertaking must be done without harming vulnerable residents in existing low-income units.

Last month, Western Center submitted a letter with LAFLA and LA CAN alerting the city to our concerns about displacement and the improper use of HHH funds. The story of the Royal Park Motel also appeared in a Los Angeles Times story. After engaging with the city regarding our concerns, the council’s Homelessness and Poverty Committee adopted language to make the Request for Proposal for the HHH pilot project open for new construction only, with an emphasis on ensuring that low-income individuals are not displaced from existing properties by HHH-funded projects.

This week, the entire council voted to adopt the committee’s amended language. We are heartened that the city responded positively to our interventions and recommendations regarding HHH funds, and we will continue to monitor the distribution of the funds to ensure that the city stays focused on the goal — and the will of voters — to create new units for unhoused Angelenos, while avoiding the potential misstep of displacing vulnerable tenants in the process. We hope other municipalities will take note that it is possible to build new development while protecting existing, vulnerable tenants.

PolitiFact California: Gavin Newsom Has Made Progress On Some Promises, Not So Much On Others

During his first 100 days in office, California Gov. Gavin Newsom made early progress on campaign pledges to create universal health care, guarantee free community college and expand affordable housing and homeless services.

In January, advocates praised Newsom for his budget proposal to spend $625 million on homeless programs, saying he’d given the issue greater priority than past administrations. His current budget calls for $500 million in one-time funds for cities and counties to plan and build emergency shelters, navigation centers or supportive housing, all to help the estimated 130,000 homeless Californians.

…”The numbers are absolutely unacceptable. You’re talking about virtually every county in the state— there are folks that are homeless,” Paul Tepper, executive director of the Western Center of Law and Poverty, told us.

Experts weigh in on secretary promise

Tepper said “it’s absolutely critical” that California “makes progress, and makes it soon” on its homeless problem by partnering with federal and local governments.

He was less certain about whether that requires a state homeless secretary.

“It depends on what the person can accomplish,” Tepper said. “If the person or the council can bring more money to the table, can get more housing built than it’s important. We won’t know until we see the results. It’s kind of like relationships, it’s not what the person says, it’s what they do.”

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