SACRAMENTO, Calif. (TBEN) — California Governor Gavin Newsom agreed to release $1 billion in homeless funds he put on hold earlier this month, but only if local governments agree to ramp up the aggressiveness of their future plans. to the number of homeless people in the state.
The Democratic governor said his afternoon meeting Friday with about 100 mayors and local officials was personal and virtually productive, with leaders getting on the same page about what needs to be done and willing to achieve their goals.
“It was nice to hear their progress. And it was nice to hear their acknowledgment that we have to go to another level,” he told reporters after the two-hour meeting. “What I want to see is what everyone wants to see: the streets of California have been cleaned up. We want camps to be cleared, we want people to be housed.”
Newsom, who ran for re-election this month, is on the hook in his second term to show that the growing number of homeless people, some of whom camp out on city sidewalks and under highway underpasses, has declined, leaving even the most politically liberal voters in the region. the most populous state in the country.
He stunned the state when he announced two weeks ago that he would withhold $1 billion in spending until cities and counties came up with more robust plans. the next four years.
Mayors and county officials — many of whom are Democrats — as well as advocates for low-income housing opposed his effort to withhold funding, saying it was counterproductive to withhold money needed for shelter beds, outreach workers and other people’s services without a house. They pleaded with the governor for more direction — as well as guaranteed, ongoing funding to build more ambitious plans.
On Friday, he reiterated the record amount his administration has spent on housing and homelessness, including a recent commitment by state lawmakers to spend $15.3 billion over the next three years. The money has housed tens of thousands of people, he said, but acknowledged that people on the street were not seeing results.
Newsom said he had no intention of turning his back on local governments, but that “to find new committed money as we go into what could be a recession with the headwinds, one has to be level-headed about that – just as they be sober about that. with their budget.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg defended Newsom, saying after the rally that he understood the governor’s need to push local governments to action. He praised Newsom for his leadership on this issue – from converting motels into homes to new mental health courts to treat homeless people with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses.
But not everyone understood the point of Friday’s meeting.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who participated virtually, said there were too many people and little room for “candid, constructive dialogue.” He and other mayors were told a few days ago that Newsom planned to release the money if they submitted new plans.
Overall, the governor seemed to be on a different wavelength than the state’s housing department, which was working with San Jose and other cities on their original plans, said Liccardo, also a Democrat.
“There seem to be opposing views about what is needed,” he said.
The California State Association of Counties was blunt in its criticism.
“We cannot solve an ongoing crisis with one-off commitments. Progress requires clear state, county and city roles aligned with sustainable, equitable financing. We need to get out of our own way and work together,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the association that represents the state’s 58 counties.
Tackling homelessness has been left to local governments in California for decades, but Newsom took office in 2019, vowing to own an issue he said he understood well as a former mayor of San Francisco, where tent camps crowd the sidewalks and people in a clear mental health crisis. a common face.
California had an estimated 161,000 homeless people in 2020 and the number is expected to be higher this year, a result of the state’s high housing costs and historic underpinnings of homes. Homeless advocates say they can’t keep up and that even if they find shelter for some, many more will lose their homes.
That possibility of a separate homelessness funding stream faded this week after state officials announced Wednesday that California is likely to run a $25 billion budget deficit next year after a series of historic surpluses.
The state’s 13 largest cities, 58 counties and 44 groups of homeless service providers submitted 75 applications detailing their plans to spend $1 billion in what was the third round of disbursements.
An additional billion dollars is on the table, but Newsom won’t release that money unless those governments pledge to be “more aggressive across the board,” said Erin Mellon, spokesman for the governor’s office. Plans are expected in two weeks.
Applicants must also agree to adopt best practices as much as possible, including more efficient methods of housing and streamlining the construction of more homes for poor and extremely poor households.
The Newsom administration is also cracking down on California cities and counties that are reluctant to build more housing, including affordable housing, with many saying they don’t want the traffic congestion and neighborhood changes that come with more people.
TBEN reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed reporting from Sacramento, California.