By Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas.
Homelessness is a very complex issue, but the math is relatively simple. We have more than 2.2 million households in California that qualify as either Very or Extremely Low Income. There are only about 664,000 low-income housing units in the state. That means more than one and a half million households are struggling to find and afford a place to live. We need more affordable housing—and we need it now. Building or subsidizing more affordable housing won’t be easy or inexpensive, but the costs are far if we don’t find solutions.
The number of homeless people in the state has climbed to about 134,000 according to recent official counts, but the actual number is probably far higher. Homelessness has been linked to public health issues, wildfires and blight. And we know that homeless people are far more likely to suffer from illness, injury and violence. They are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We should be helping homeless people get into homes and deal with the causes of their homelessness because in the long run, it will be far less expensive than dealing with the impacts of their homelessness. And frankly, it is also just the right thing to do.
That’s why the California State Association of Counties has proposed that the Governor and Legislature allocate $1.3 billionfrom this year’s projected state budget surplus for affordable housing programs and services. Last year the Legislature passed a series of housing bills that will provide more revenue for affordable housing, but it takes time. SB 2, for example, adds a $75 fee on recording housing documents. It will take at least a year to collect that revenue and more time to disburse it.
California needs to begin building affordable housing now and the current budget surplus could help reduce the cost of housing and streamline the process for thousands of eligible families. We also believe additional funds should be used to jumpstart the No Place Like Home Initiative to begin work on critically needed permanent supportive housing units. For the significant percentage of homeless people who need behavioral health treatment and other services to address the causes of their chronic homelessness, a supported place to live can be the key to that treatment.
California counties have “boots on the ground” experience with homelessness. Our recent report on homelessness from our joint taskforce with League of California Cities identified a housing voucher program in Marin County, a tiny-home community in Yuba County and a comprehensive pilot program in my own Yolo County. Counties are finding creative and innovative ways to get people into shelters, into programs that address the cause of their homelessness and eventually into permanent homes. But we need more affordable housing units as soon as possible to continue that work.
We urge the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to consider the budget requests outlined in our letter. Homelessness and affordable housing are both crisis issues in California. We know what works to begin easing these issues and many local governments, non-profits and community-based organizations are finding success, but we need additional resources to meet the need. Solutions to the homelessness and housing crises are available, but it is now up to all of us to implement them.