State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), with co-authors Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Buffy Wicks, this week unveiled SB 18 “Keep Californians Housed,” which seeks to stop homelessness before it starts by expanding state funding to provide rental assistance as well as legal aid to assist residents in staying in their homes.
“When it comes to homelessness, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Sena. Skinner. “It costs much less to keep someone in their current residence than to provide services or find housing for those who end up homeless and living on our streets.”
Keep Californians Housed is modeled on a program recently begun in Oakland named Keep Oakland Housed, which in just two months has helped approximately 150 Oakland families remain in their residences.
According to a 2009 Los Angeles study by the Economic Roundtable, providing services and emergency response to homeless individuals can cost taxpayers nearly $35,000 a year. Programs like Keep Oakland Housed expend up to $7,000 to assist families as risk of displacement.
Seeking to replicate this success across California, Skinner’s bill comes at a critical time as homelessness among working people and families is rising. Skyrocketing rents and stagnant wages have severely squeezed many households and have caused over a quarter of all California renters to now spend more than half of their income on rent.
Losing one’s home can set off a chain reaction leading to job loss, negative health impacts and more, which make it even harder to secure new housing.
SB 18 would set aside state funds to provide both direct assistance for households who have fallen behind on their rent as well as legal assistance for tenants whose landlords may be trying to evict them illegally, replicating the good work of Keep Oakland Housed across California.
SB 18 is a continuation of Senator Skinner’s work to address homelessness and alleviate the effects of California’s punishing housing shortage.
Skinner authored SB 167 in 2017, which required local governments to approve housing projects that comply with local zoning laws, and was a leader in the 2018 effort that secured an additional $500M in state funding for homeless services and housing.
“When it comes to housing units per person, California is the second worst in the U.S.,” said Senator Skinner. “To solve California’s housing crisis, we need an ‘all of the above’ approach that keeps people in their homes while building more housing at every income level up and down the state.”
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Big City Mayors Call On State To Allocate $20 Billion To Curb Homelessness
“We know how to fix this problem. Each of our jurisdictions has done detailed analyses and have regional plans in the Bay Area,” Schaaf said.
California’s Big City Mayors, a coalition of mayors from the 13 largest cities, are calling on the state to allocate half of its $40 billion surpluses to local governments to curb and end homelessness.
The Big City Mayors coalition includes Mayors from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland, Bakersfield, Anaheim, Riverside, Santa Ana, and Stockton.
The ask: $4 billion per year, five-year investment for a total of $20 billion in flexible funding as part of the state budget.
“There’s no question it’s a big investment,” coalition chair and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a virtual news conference on April 29. “But spending half of a surplus on the biggest problem we faced in California, and making that commitment last for a half-decade, that’s money well spent.”
With the combination of the state’s $26 billion in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan and the record surplus, mayors see this as a unique opportunity to make drastic impacts for the state’s 161,000 unhoused residents.
Mayors are calling the surplus a “generational opportunity,” because, economic challenges make it difficult to identify an ongoing revenue source.
If approved, the funding would be roughly 10 times greater than any funding the cities have received in the past, Sacramento Mayor Darell Steinberg said.
Steinberg said that even with a fraction of what they are asking for now, cities have been able to house hundreds of residents with state money from Project Roomkey, Project Home key, and other initiatives.
In a letter to the state senate and assembly leaders, mayors wrote that through Project Home key, cities were able to create transitional housing at $148,000 per unit.
“Based on the average cost of our Project Home key success, a four-year allocation of $16 billion that we’ve outlined could create more than 100,000 homes–or enough to permanently house nearly every Californian who entered a homeless shelter in 2020,” the letter reads.
Steinberg also said that additional resources could support those dealing with rent struggles, prevent evictions and prevent people from losing their homes – essentially preventing homelessness.
“Imagine a California with these kinds of investments,” he said.
Mayors emphasized that the funding would need to be flexible because every city has unique ways in addressing and combatting the homeless.
San Francisco used its state funding to create more than 9,000 permanent housing placements through initiatives like purchasing hotels, its Mayor London Breed said.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also touted her city’s success by pointing to a couple of “unique initiatives” that have allowed the city to double the number of residents sheltered over the last year.
Initiatives include creating safe RV parks, buying and transforming an old college dormitory into housing, and even purchasing single-family homes to create a haven for homeless seniors to live together.
“We know how to fix this problem. Each of our jurisdictions have done detailed analyses and have regional plans in the Bay Area,” Schaaf said. “We just need the resources.”
Schaaf pointed to the regional Bay Area action plan created by nonprofit All Home that seeks to shrink the region’s homeless population by 75% in three years by following the 1-2-4 framework.
Essentially, this means for every single unit of interim housing built, there should be two units of permanent housing and four units of homeless prevention interventions to keep people housed.
The last part of the framework, which could look like accelerated cash payments, income-targeted rental assistance, and other housing support, is the most important aspect she said.
“What we’re seeing is we’re getting people out of homelessness, but new people are becoming homeless at a faster rate,” Schaaf said.
She continued that a solution to homelessness is what residents wanted too.
Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln echoed this sentiment as well.
“Over 80% of Stockton residents view homelessness as a humanitarian crisis affecting the quality of life for all Stocktonians,” Lincoln said.
In San Jose, the city utilized state funding to build three interim housing sites on neglected public land within months, Liccardo said.
“Building apartments in the Bay Area typically costs about $700,000 per apartment unit and requires four or five years to build in a development cycle,” Liccardo said. “We’ve shown we can do this… in less than six months at a fifth of the cost.”
So how likely is it that the Big City Mayors get their request met?
Well, already State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Speaker Anthony Rendon have voiced their support, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.
The $4 billion yearly funding for housing and homelessness is also listed as budget priorities, released earlier this week, for both the state assembly and state senate.
If passed, the funding would likely be split between cities and counties, with more funding going to entities with more homelessness, Liccardo said.
“The allocation typically is based on a formula that combines both point in time, homeless counts and population and so we expect those kinds of formulas to continue,” Liccardo said. “And we’ll be certainly advocating to ensure that the hardest hit cities, after all, its large cities that have suffered most from homelessness, are in fact, front and center.”
It won’t be an easy road, but the mayors said they are hopeful.
“We just have a sense of optimism here,” Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson said. “We can begin to move the needle, we can begin to make a change.”
What Oakland’s Homeless Audit Says About Evictions, Policing, and Fire
Although the audit was vast in its analysis, this guide attempts to outline key points from the audit related only to evictions and hygiene services, police response and costs, and fire department response and costs.
On April 14, Oakland’s City Auditor Courtney Ruby released an audit of the city’s homeless encampment management interventions and activities for the fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-2020. The 95-page report includes data and estimations about interventions, populations, costs, and availability of services related to homeless people and their communities.
Claiming that the city “lacked an effective strategy…and did not provide sufficient policy direction or adequate funding,” Ruby also included recommendations for better addressing homeless communities. Although the audit was vast in its analysis, this guide attempts to outline key points from the audit related only to evictions and hygiene services, police response and costs, and fire department response and costs.
Evictions and hygiene services
The audit’s data on evictions and hygiene services is limited to the 2018-19 fiscal year and the first eight months of the 2019-20 fiscal year, when the city suspended most homeless evictions and cleaning interventions due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. During this timeframe, the city evicted 181 homeless communities. Of these evictions, 123, or about two-thirds of the total, were classified as “re-closures,” which the report defined as occurring “when homeless individuals return to a previously closed [homeless community].” In the fiscal year 2018-19, about 60% of evictions were re-closures. From July 2019 through February 2020, this ratio increased, and about 77% of evictions were re-closures.
The audit reports 1,599 interventions classified as “hygiene and garbage services,” and defines such interventions as “providing portable toilets, hand-washing stations, regular garbage service, and/or traffic barriers.” For each of these services performed per homeless community, the audit counts one intervention. These interventions are lumped together and lack individual data, meaning that the audit did not report precise data on how often the city provided trash pick-up to homeless communities.
The audit reports that the city increased its hygiene and garbage interventions. From 2018-19, the city provided 797 such interventions, or about 66 per month. During the first eight months of 2019-2020, the city performed 802 such interventions, or about 100 per month. After March 2020, in response to COVID-19, the audit claims the city increased the number of homeless communities that receive hygiene interventions from 20 to 40, but the vast majority of homeless communities in Oakland still do not get hygiene and/or trash services with any regularity. The audit estimates that there are at least 140 homeless communities in Oakland but acknowledges “that this estimate may be conservative.”
Police response and costs
Data recorded in the audit shows police response to 911 calls in homeless communities was not timely. While over 99% of 911 calls were classified as “Priority 2,” which the audit claims “ideally should be responded to in 10 to 15 minutes,” data provided by OPD showed the median police response time to Priority 2 calls was two hours in 2018-19, while the mean response time was four hours. In 2019-20, response time slowed by about 50%, with the median response time being about three hours, while the mean response time was about six hours. Data OPD listed related to response time range show the department took over two days to respond to at least one 911 call in 2018-19 and over six days to respond to at least one other 911 call in 2019-20. Although OPD recorded 1,458 calls to homeless communities during the two years of the audit, the audit only analyzed 988 of these calls, claiming that “response data was incomplete” for 470 calls.
The audit records OPD using about $3.1 million in costs associated with homeless communities. But that $3.1 million does not include an accurate account of overtime pay. OPD only started recording overtime pay related to homeless communities in February 2020, just before the frequency of interventions, notably evictions, declined dramatically.
About $1.7 million, a slim majority of OPD’s recorded costs related to homeless communities, are recorded as labor costs that went to the three members of The Homeless Outreach Team. The Homeless Outreach Team consists of one sergeant and two officers who dedicate 100% of their time to homeless community work.
The Abandoned Auto Unit incurred over $800,000 in labor costs to provide support at moderate to large homeless community evictions. They were responsible for “traffic control and tagging and towing vehicles at [homeless communities] when necessary.” About $600,000 went to labor costs incurred by Patrol staff responding to 911 calls.
Fire Department response and costs
The audit reports that The Oakland Fire Department responded to 988 fires in homeless communities in 2018-19 and 2019-20, which is more than one a day. The data recorded shows that the OFD response times for such fires were timely, arriving in just over seven minutes and 50 seconds to over 90% of calls. Such responses were slightly faster than responses to non-homeless community related calls, which, in 90% of cases, OFD responded to in about eight minutes and 10 seconds. OFD has recorded no injuries to firefighters fighting fires at homeless communities. One homeless resident died in 2020 as a direct result of a fire. The audit did not record fire-related injuries to homeless people or their lost possessions.
OFD-related costs accounted for an estimated $1.8 million in funds related to homeless communities in 2018-19 and 2019-2020. About $676,000 went to “fire prevention labor,” which includes labor costs associated with fire hazard inspections, investigations related to fires, and removal of hazardous waste. Over $ million went to both labor and equipment costs related to “fire suppression.” Fire suppression costs include costs related to fighting fires and rescue activities. OFD costs related to homeless communities rose over 40% from 2018-19 to 2019-20 while total fires at homeless communities increased about 17% over these years.
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