Local Government
Commentary: California can’t solve homelessness without more housing. SB 5 will be key

Commentary: California can’t solve homelessness without more housing. SB 5 will be key

By Senator Jim Beall.

On any given day, as many as 150,000 Californians are homeless, struggling to exist without the most fundamental of necessities: shelter.

At the same time, millions of lower-income and middle-class families are struggling to afford a roof over their heads and are just one paycheck or one emergency away from being out of a home.

That’s why I’ve authored Senate Bill 5, which would create the Affordable Housing and Community Development Program. It would be a new, state-backed program that would provide cities and counties the resources they need to help fund the construction of affordable housing, including rental housing, available to very low, low and moderate-income families. This bill would stimulate housing for people particularly vulnerable to homelessness.

Homelessness and housing affordability are complex problems that will not be solved easily, quickly or with a silver bullet.

Making a dent in this crisis will take cooperation between local and state governments, both playing a role along with non-profits and the private sector so we can begin to address the enormous gap of affordable housing for those most in need.

One major issue is that there is not nearly enough affordable rental housing available to low- and very- low income households. More than 2.2 million extremely low-income and very low-income renter households are competing for only 664,000 affordable rental homes. That leaves more than 1.5 million of California’s lowest-income families without access to housing. Many of these families are on the brink of homelessness.

There also is a dearth of affordable housing for working families.

We need more supply of both. To build it, we need funding.

SB 5 would tap into California’s resources and create a state-local partnership to provide ongoing and sustainable funding to local governments to increase the stock of affordable housing.

Beginning in 2021, SB 5 would provide $200 million annually to local governments. That amount could grow annually and be capped at $2 billion annually.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Legislature are to be commended for providing hundreds of millions of dollars in this year’s state budget to help local governments plan for more housing, build emergency shelters and provide services for the homeless.

While this one-time infusion of money is important, our homeless and affordable housing crises aren’t a one-year problem. We need a dedicated program and ongoing funding to help attack these problems over the long-term.

Lawmakers and then-Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated a key source of ongoing funding available to local governments to build affordable housing when they eliminated the redevelopment program in 2011.

That said, SB 5 is not redevelopment. We’ve learned from the past mistakes and abuses of that program to structure a more accountable financing tool that will be hyper-focused on housing, particularly affordable housing, and the necessary supportive infrastructure.

SB 5 contains strong accountability provisions.

The legislation would create the Affordable Housing and Community Development Investment Committee, a statewide oversight body that would ensure state priorities are met and empowered to approve or reject all projects proposed by local governments.

Additionally, cities and counties would submit annual reports that would be reviewed by the Legislature. SB 5 would create an annual cap on funds available, and the Legislature could suspend funding during fiscal downturns. Lastly, SB 5 would ensure funding for schools and community colleges are not impacted.

We need bold solutions to begin to reverse course on the epidemic of homelessness and our lack of affordable housing. We need the state to step in as a partner with the hundreds of local communities struggling to provide affordable housing. That’s why we need Senate Bill 5.

Originally posted at CalMatters.

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