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Assembly committee okays amending state constitution to add housing as a right

The Golden State’s expensive housing prices are stirring state lawmakers to action.

A bill establishing a fundamental right to housing for all Californians passed its first vote 6-2 in the state Assembly Housing Committee on June 7.

Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) introduced the legislation, ACA 10, on March 6, 2023, which would amend the California Constitution. “Access to adequate housing is one of the first steps to guarantee a person’s physical, emotional, and economic well-being,” said Haney in a statement. “Despite a patchwork of resources given to cities and counties across the state to provide affordable and accessible housing, California is still struggling to address its worsening housing crisis.

“Putting this commitment to housing in our constitution brings it up in comparison to other rights that we’ve said are non-negotiable for us and holds governments and elected officials accountable to do their job. This constitutional amendment simply says housing is the highest priority and value in our state.”

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Tenant Groups Reach Settlement With State Of California Over Applicants Stuck In Rent Relief Limbo

Los Angeles tenant groups announced Monday they have settled their lawsuit against the state of California over how housing department officials handled the state’s rent relief program.

The deal gives tenants another chance to have their rent relief application reviewed or to appeal a denial. An estimated 331,000 L.A. area households remain behind on rent, and many of them are now facing possible eviction.

“Hopefully, people who were quickly denied in the past will actually be approved when the state is forced to look a little bit closer,” said Legal Aid Foundation of L.A. attorney Jonathan Jager. He worked on the legal team that brought the lawsuit forward on behalf of L.A.-based tenant group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, statewide advocacy organization Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and national research institute PolicyLink.

During the pandemic, California’s Housing Is Key program came under fire for being difficult to access, or even understand, especially for low-income tenants who didn’t own computers or speak English. The lawsuit sought to address those disparities, and get eligible tenants connected to the relief they were promised.

Legislation exempting Chula Vista property from state Surplus Land Act passes Assembly

The state Assembly has approved legislation that would exempt 383 acres set aside by Chula Vista for a university and innovation district from the Surplus Land Act.Assembly Bill 837, sponsored by Assemblymember David Alvarez, is now under review by the Senate Rules Committee.The Surplus Land Act requires local governments to offer excess land for sale or lease to affordable housing developers first before allowing other uses. It exempts parcels that are impossible to build on or have legal restrictions.
Chula Vista sought an exemption for the site, located near its Otay Ranch Town Center, because it envisions the property having a university, market-rate housing and research and development companies. The city maintained that it acquired the land through agreements that limited the type of developments that could be built on-site.

The Fresno Housing Authority will reopen the housing voucher list soon. Here’s how you can apply.

The Fresno Housing Authority will be opening its Housing Choice Voucher Program interest list for the first time since 2019. The list will open June 15 at 10 a.m. and will close July 14 at 5 p.m.

The program, formerly known as Section 8, provides rental assistance to low-income renters in Fresno city and county.

The list has not been opened yet, but potential applicants can start the process by creating an account on the Fresno Housing Authority’s resident portal.

Once the list is open, Fresno Housing Authority “will launch an educational campaign to provide information and resources to the community to spread awareness about the program,” representatives stated in an email to Fresnoland.

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Western Center Roundup – May 2023


Western Center Releases 2022 Annual Report

As we close Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, National Women’s Health Month, and Maternal Mental Health Month, we are reflecting on the words of social justice activist Grace Lee Boggs“We should not be waiting for singular charismatic leaders to tell us what direction to go, but instead be like midwives, supporting the birth of movements that are already emerging.” Our 2022 annual report outlines the work we do in partnership with our movement allies, legal aid service providers, coalitions, pro bono partners, funders, policy makers, and community members to advance racial and economic justice. Framed by the beautiful art of Kayla Salisbury and photography by Las Fotos Project, we tell the story of 2022 litigation, advocacy, and movement wins – and how historic investments in safety net programs, tenant protections, and health care coverage expansions reduced rates of growing poverty in the face of COVID-19’s continued economic devastation. 

 

Read the Report



Securing Transformative District Wide Changes for Black Students and Black Students with Disabilities in Black Parallel School Board v. Sacramento City Unified School District

Last week, we announced a transformational settlement agreement with co-counsel, Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California (DRC), and National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), in Black Parallel School Board v. Sacramento City Unified School District. The suit accused the district of discriminatory segregation of students with disabilities and Black students with disabilities into highly restrictive classrooms and schools, plus other harmful practices laid bare in a 2017 report, based on a district self-audit. The suit also highlighted the District’s failure to provide these students with the educational and supportive services that the law requires. Plaintiffs alleged this failure contributed to grossly disparate rates of suspension and expulsion of Black students—among the very worst in the state for Black boys in 2018-2019 —as well as for students with disabilities.

The settlement requires the appointment of an independent monitor to review existing reports and data on the District’s special education and school discipline practices and develop and implement an Action Plan to bring SCUSD in compliance with the law to ensure all students have equal access to a quality education. “We are optimistic about the independent monitor component of the settlement; it will create accountability and help guide and direct the District as it undertakes the essential work of dismantling a discriminatory system,” said Senior Attorney Antionette Dozier of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. 

 

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Join Us for the Next Meet The Advocates on Ending Poverty Tows – June 29th at 12PM

Not being able to renew a vehicle’s registration or even having your car towed because of unpaid parking tickets happens frequently enough to low-income people that it has a name: poverty tows. Join Patrice Berry of EPIC, Rebecca Miller and Cynthia Castillo of Western Center, for our next Meet the Advocates, focused on AB1082 (Kalra), a bill to stop authorities from towing legally and safely parked vehicles due to the owner having unpaid parking citations. Public records show that although the goal of these tows is to collect debt, poverty tows actually cost cities far more than they recover. Learn about the snowballing impact of poverty tows on Californians with low incomes –  and why the time is now to pass AB1082.  

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New Staff, Awards, and Acknowledgments

Western Center continues to grow to meet the needs of Californians with low incomes. Please join us in welcoming our newest team members, Monika Lee, Senior Communications Strategist, Eduardo Lopez, Public Benefits and Access to Justice Fellow, Lori McCoy Shuler, Senior Executive and Legal Assistant, and Katie McKeon, Housing Attorney! We also invite you to join us in celebrating Crystal D. Crawford, Western Center’s Executive Director as she receives the Excellence in Advocacy Award from Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles Foundation on June 3rd. We also send our congratulations to Western Center Board Member Dr. Megan T. Ebor‘s on her recent recognition with the Heart-Led Leader Award given by the Associated Students at San Diego State University.

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California bill aims to rein in high security deposits

Most renters know securing housing isn’t as simple as finding the perfect place.

California’s renters must save up thousands of dollars to provide security deposits that can legally be as much as two months’ rent, or three months’ for furnished units.

Add in the requirement that renters put up the first month’s rent before they can move in and low-income families are most likely to give up hope of finding a home.

The state Assembly on May 22 passed a proposal that could change that.

Assembly Bill 12 would limit security deposits to one month’s rent, regardless of whether a unit is furnished or not. If the bill passes and gets Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, California could become the 12th state to limit security deposits.

“Security deposits present barriers for people to move into apartments, which can lead them to stay in apartments (and) in homes that are too small, crowded or even unsafe,” said Matt Haney, the Democratic Assemblymember from San Francisco who authored the bill. “In other cases, people take on debt or financial burden that leaves them unable to afford other necessities.”

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Legislative Survivor: Which big California bills were shelved in ‘suspense file?’

The potential costs of a new policy or program always factor into the legislative process — but that’s especially true when the state is facing down a $31.5 billion budget deficit.

As the Legislature completed a key milestone this week, deciding the fates of nearly 1,200 measures with significant price tags, California’s looming revenue shortfall was on the mind.

“It is a different time that we have to operate in, so it is a lens that we have to look through all the bills,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who leads the appropriations committee. “To the extent there were some real pressures that we thought we needed to address, we did.”

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Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s 2023-2024 May Revision Budget

The Newsom Administration released its 2023-24 May Revision budget, projecting a $31.5 billion deficit. After years of a budget surplus, California is forecasting a downturn in funding due to a combination of capital gains losses and delayed tax filings due to natural disasters, but California remains strong. The May Revision reflects a $37.2 billion in total budgetary reserves and additional funds from the Managed Care Organization tax.  

Governor Newsom maintains many of the Administration’s and legislature’s previous commitments and proposes no new trigger cuts. He also proposes no new corporate or personal taxes, despite calls from the Senate and advocates to increase taxes on wealthy corporations and the state’s highest earners.  

We appreciate that the May Revision maintains past budget agreements including expansion of Medi-Cal to all regardless of immigration status, reforming the Medi-Cal share-of-cost, and on-time implementation of food assistance for Californians 55 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status 

As the fourth largest economy in the world, California has made great strides in addressing poverty and systemic inequities, but there is more work to be done. We look forward to working with the legislature and Administration to protect low-income Californians as the State enters more uncertain fiscal circumstances.  

Below are our initial reactions to the proposed budget by issue area, with a focus on changes from the January budget proposal.   

HEALTH CARE 

Health4All: The May Revision maintains full funding to expand full-scope Medi-Cal eligibility to all income eligible adults ages 26-49 regardless of immigration status on January 1, 2024. The May Revision includes increases for previous expansions for adults 50 and older and ages 26-49 due updated managed care rates, higher share of state-only costs, higher caseloads, and higher acuity members. 

Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax: The May Revision proposes a bigger MCO tax with an earlier start date (April 2023 through end of 2026). This results in $19.4 billion in total funding, including $3.4 billion for 2023-24. $8.3 billion is proposed to offset General Fund and $11.1 billion is proposed to support Medi-Cal investments that improve access, quality, and equity over an 8- to10-year period. These investments include rate increases to at least 87.5% of Medicare for primary care, birthing care, and non-specialty mental health providers and the remainder will be put into a special fund reserve for future consideration.  

Covered California Affordability Sweep: The May Revision maintains proposal to sweep Covered California reserve fund to General Fund totaling $333.4 million. 

Distressed Hospital Loan Program: The May Revision includes up to $150 million one-time General Fund to provide interest-free cashflow loans to not-for-profit and public hospitals in significant financial distress or to governmental entities representing a closed hospital, for purposes of preventing the closure of, or facilitating the reopening of, those hospitals.  

Home and Community-Based Services Spending Plan Extension: The May Revision includes a six-month extension until September 30, 2024 for specified programs such as the IHSS Career Pathways Program and the Senior Nutrition Infrastructure Program to fully spend allocated funding based on critical programmatic needs.  

Doula Services Implementation Evaluation: To align with later implementation date, TBL is proposed to extend the timeline of the Doula Stakeholder Workgroup (from April 1, 2022 until December 31, 2023) and to extend the evaluation of the doula benefit implementation in the Medi-Cal program (from April 1, 2023 until June 30, 2025).  

Medical Interpreter Pilot Program: Through TBL, the May Revision proposes to extend the expenditure authority of the Medical Interpreter Pilot Project for 12 months, from June 30, 2024 to June 30, 2025.  

988 Update: The May Revision includes a one-time augmentation of $15 million for a total of $19 million, from the 988 State Suicide and Behavioral Health Crisis Services Fund for California’s 988 centers. This increase will support workforce expansion to handle increased answered call volume, extensions of service hours, and the availability of chat and text options for callers utilizing the 988 services.  

BH-CONNECT Demonstration (formerly referred to as CalBH-CBC Demonstration): The May Revision includes an update to the BH-CONNECT Demonstration to include a new Workforce Initiative and includes $480 million in funding for each year of the five-year demonstration period ($2.4 billion total funding and no General Fund).  

CalRX and Reproductive Health: The May Revision includes TBL and $2 million one-time General Fund reappropriation from the Capital Infrastructure Security Program and allows the use of these funds for reproductive health care if necessary. 

Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act: The May Revision includes additional funding to support the implementation of the CARE Act. Compared to the Governor’s Budget, the annual increase is between $43 million and $54.5 million to account for refined county behavioral health department cost assumptions, additional one-time $15 million General Fund for Los Angeles County start-up funding. The May Revision also includes an additional $16.8 million in 2023-24, $29.8 million in 2024-25, and $32.9 million ongoing to double the number of hours per participant for legal services from 20 hours to 40 hours. 

HOMELESSNESS

The May Revision preserves the full $3.7 billion in funding for homelessness programs, as committed in previous budgets, including $1 billion for the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention grant program. 

May Revision Adjustments:  

Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program: $500 million one-time Mental Health Services Fund in 2023-24 in lieu of General Fund. This investment eliminates the January Budget proposed delay of $250 million General Fund to 2024-25 and restores the $1.5 billion commitment funded in the 2022 Budget Act for the program. 

HOUSING

While the May Revision reflects a steady commitment to Homelessness investments, the May Revision also culminated in a weakening of housing investments totaling $17.5 million in General Fund reductions and $345 million in deferrals related to housing programs. Funding for housing programs remains at approximately 88% of the allocations made in 2022-23 and proposed for 2023-24 ($2.85 billion). This outlook could change if there are sufficient General Fund dollars in January 2024. If that occurs, the Governor has committed to restoring $350 million of these reductions. Overall, the proposal includes $500 million continued annual investment in the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, $225 million for the Multifamily Housing Program, and $100 million for the Portfolio Reinvestment Program. These programs have a proven track-record of addressing housing affordability and homelessness across California. 

May Revision Adjustments: 

Foreclosure Intervention Housing Prevention Program: Provides funds to various non-profit organizations to acquire foreclosed property and operate as affordable housing. Deferral of $345 million of the $500 million one-time General Fund over four fiscal years—for a revised allocation of: $50 million in 2023-24, $100 million in 2024-25, $100 million in 2025-26, and $95 million in 2026-27 

Downtown Rebound Program: Funds adaptive reuse of commercial and industrial structures to residential housing. Reverts $17.5 million in unexpended funding that remained in this program after the Notice of Funding Availability. 

In contrast, the Senate’s Budget Plan, which was released two weeks ago, both prevents funding cuts and delays, and builds on our progress by including ongoing investment in homelessness and resources for key housing production programs. Notably, that Plan provides $1 billion in ongoing funds to support the Homeless Housing Assistance, and Prevention Program, $1 billion towards the state Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, and an additional $300 million flexible allocation towards affordable housing programs.  

Western Center is a proud member of a coalition of California’s leading affordable housing, homelessness, and housing justice advocacy organizations championing a comprehensive coalition investment strategy for affordable housing production, preservation, and tenant stability. While the May Revision falls short of our requests to meet the housing and homelessness crisis at scale, we look forward to continuing our budget advocacy and encourage the Governor and Legislative leadership to finalize a budget that includes ongoing, significant resources like those included in the Senate budget plan and our coordinated housing budget letter. 

PUBLIC BENEFITS AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE  

CalWORKs Grant Increase: The May Revision reflects a 3.6-percent increase ($111.2 million in 2023-24) to CalWORKs Maximum Aid Payment levels, effective October 1, 2023. These increased grant costs are funded through the Child Poverty and Family Supplemental Support Subaccount.  

Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): The May Revision continues to include an 8.6% increase in funding for the SSI/SSP and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI) program providing a $3.6 billion from the general fund. This allocation provides recipients with an increase in grant levels to $1,134 per month and $1,928 per month for couples. 

California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) Expansion Update: The May Revision moves up the issuance of food benefits for older undocumented immigrants to start October 2025, instead of the January Proposal that delayed it until 2027, which we appreciate but we still need Food4All regardless of age and immigration status. 

Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Program: The May Revision includes $47 million ($23.5 million General Fund) for outreach and automation costs to phase in a new federal Summer EBT program for children who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals beginning summer 2024.  

Safety Net Reserve: The May Revision withdraws $450 million (half of $900 million) from the Safety Net Reserve. The reserve is intended to maintain existing Medi-Cal and CalWORKs program benefits and services when program cost may increase due to economic conditions, which may occur if recession occurs, so we argue it is prudent to not draw from Safety Net Reserve until those conditions are met. 

Services for Survivors and Victims of Hate Crimes Augmentation: The May Revision includes an additional $10 million General Fund to support services for victims and survivors of hate crimes and their families and facilitate hate crime prevention measures in consultation with the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs. 

For questions, contact: 

  • Health: Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate – lnguy[at]wclp.org; Sandra Poole, Policy Advocate – spoole[at]wclp.org 
  • Housing and Homelessness: Cynthia Castillo, Policy Advocate – ccastillo[at]wclp.org; Tina Rosales, Policy Advocate – trosales[at]wclp.org 
  • Public Benefits/ Access to Justice: Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate – csanchez[at]wclp.org 

Western Center Roundup – April 2023


NEW REPORT: Recognizing the Right to Housing

 

Last week, we released a new report, Recognizing the Right to Housing: Why We Need a Human Right to Housing in California, with our partners, ACLU California Action, ACCE Institute, and the National Homelessness Law Center. This report outlines how including the right to housing to California’s constitution could fundamentally shift housing policy in the state and address the housing and homelessness crisis at its root cause. As detailed in the report, a constitutional right to housing would establish a legal mechanism to hold local and state governments accountable for ensuring that all Californians have access to affordable and adequate housing. Modeled after international law, a constitutional amendment would establish a government obligation to:

respect the right to housing by not interfering with the right;
protect the right to housing by shielding the enjoyment of affordable and adequate housing from third-party threats; and
fulfill the right to housing by affirmatively enacting policies and budgetary allocations to ensure that all Californians have secure housing.

On April 25th, we stood with our partners and hundreds of community organizers and tenants at the Capitol for a press conference to release the report recommendations and drive support for several of our housing bills this session: ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right; SB 460; (Wahab): Fair Chance Housing; SB 567(Durazo): Homelessness Prevention Act. AB 920(Bryan): Discrimination: housing status.

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Western Center Sounds the Alarm on Staff Shortages Facing Counties Amid Medi-Cal Changes

 

Western Center’s Senior Attorney David Kane has been making the media rounds, raising awareness of “the perfect storm” approaching Californians on Medi-Cal who registered in record numbers during the pandemic and now face a challenging benefits renewal process to ensure continued coverage. In recent articles with the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times, David spoke of Western Center’s discovery through a public records request of just how woefully unprepared counties are in preparing for Medi-Cal benefits renewals – challenges such as staff shortages, an unseasoned workforce, a new computer system, and budget constraints. “None of this works if county Medi-Cal offices don’t have what they need in terms of basic resources and people in their offices to help people renew their Medi-Cal because they are the ones who determine whether somebody qualifies or should be terminated,” Kane said. “Today, with the historic level of record-high Medi-Cal enrollment, that already would be a challenge to counties and their offices, but it’s even worse. Counties have said they are understaffed and are constantly trying to fill vacancies. We’re really concerned that under these difficult circumstances, we’re not ready.”

To address these challenges, Western Center and our partners, the State, Counties, and DHCS have taken some preliminary steps to ease the process of renewals: 

  • In 2019, WCLP co-sponsored SB 260 (Hurtado) which closes coverage gaps for people no longer eligible for Medi-Cal by automatically enrolling them in the Covered California plan (if eligible) that most closely matches their previous coverage. 
  • Thanks to requests by advocates, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) convened a monthly working group to problem solve, plan, and get ready to help people keep their coverage for when renewals resumed. 
  • Counties have responded nimbly to numerous Medi-Cal expansions, including eligibility for people who are undocumented, and have updated their notices and engaged in outreach to impacted people. 
  • DHCS, in response to extensive advocacy, has done tremendous work to protect coverage for young adults who are undocumented and those who are 65 and over or disabled. 
  • Advocates have consolidated tools and resources for people looking for additional assistance as they seek to prove eligibility. 

 

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NEW BLOG POST and Partner Spotlight on Building Generational Wealth


With one in five children living in poverty in California, we celebrate our partners whose tireless efforts have culminated in groundbreaking programs to address generational wealth building. Last year, GRACE & End Child Poverty California (ECPCA), John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY)End Poverty in California (EPIC), and Liberation in a Generation worked to pass the The Hope, Opportunity, Perseverance, and Empowerment (HOPE) for Children Act and successfully advocated for HOPE trust funds accounts in our State budget. HOPE Accounts will support children from low-income families who lost a primary caregiver to COVID-19, as well as children who are in long-term foster care. HOPE funds will be available when a child turns 18. They will allow children to invest in their education, start a business, or support purchasing transportation or housing. 

In this month’s blog post, Western Center Outreach and Advocacy Associate Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez lifts up the new CalKids program as another vehicle for wealth building and a tool for moving the needle on the ever expanding racial wealth gap. “Student debt and financial access to education are some of the many obstacles that communities of color face in our state. Student debt is a lifelong burden that impacts generational wealth. Last Fall, California launched a program called the California Kids Investment and Development Savings program (CalKids) that will invest in low-income students by providing an initial seed deposit for them to save for college.”

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Mobile home parks offer refuge from California’s housing squeeze. Who’s watching them?

Bobby Riley moved to Stockton Park Village to live out his days in peace.

In 2018, the 87-year-old retired construction worker tucked his used camper trailer into the farthest lot of the horseshoe-shaped mobile home court off a tree-lined street in the outskirts of Stockton. The community’s handyman, Buzz, helped him build a porch and a patio to ground his trailer and enclosed it with a white wooden fence. He set up a swingset on the grassy common area across the way for when his granddaughter, Brooke, came to visit.

But the little piece of heaven he sought soon became a living hell.

Park owners Howard and Anne Fairbanks appear to have abandoned the property in early 2020 and later that year manager Maria Mendoza died, opening it up to squatters and illegal dumping, according to interviews with the state housing department and court records from a nuisance lawsuit filed by the county of San Joaquin against the Fairbankses. The once-green common area soon filled with wood pallets, dirty mattresses, broken-down cars, discarded washing machines and heaps of gleaming black garbage bags teeming with rats, cockroaches and flies, photos and written reports from state and county inspectors show.

The worst for residents were the pools of putrid brown liquid they have had to wade through, on and off, for nearly four years. County officials first observed surfacing sewage across the park in early November, 2020, according to Zoey Merrill, deputy counsel for San Joaquin County. By February 2021, the problems had gotten worse. A month later, Roto-Rooter came out to fix the problem at the county’s behest but was only partially successful and said the only permanent solution would be to replace the sewer lines at an estimated cost of $100,000. Throughout 2021 and 2022, Roto-Rooter periodically affected minor, temporary solutions, but nobody has replaced the sewer lines yet.

That tracks with what Riley told CalMatters: He had to live with the stench, which seeped into his trailer’s thin walls, for “several months.” His neighbors say it still stinks when it rains.

 

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