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League Adopts Housing Affordability as a Strategic Priority; Legislature Also Focusing on Issue

Proposals under Legislative Discussion Range from Identifying More Resources to Removing Local Authority

February 5, 2016
Last November the League board of directors, following a policy setting retreat with other League leadership, identified addressing housing affordability and securing more resources to assist the chronically homeless as one its top three policy priorities for 2016.
The applicable policy reads: Improve Housing Affordability. Increase state and federal financial support, reduce regulatory barriers, and provide additional incentives and local financial tools to address chronic homelessness and improve housing affordability and availability in cities throughout the state.
The rationale for this priority is obvious: cities are on the front lines of this issue but there is little to work with. The causes include growing income disparity, uneven recovery from the recession, fewer jobs paying a living wage, flawed and disorganized systems of social services and decades of federal divestment in affordable housing production, coupled with the recent elimination of California’s redevelopment agencies and the exhaustion of state housing bonds.
California has an estimated affordable housing shortage of more than one million homes. Funding for development and preservation of affordable homes dropped by a whopping 79 percent, from approximately $1.7 billion annually to nearly nothing. Collectively, it’s not a pretty picture.
Recent League Actions
  • Leadership Meetings: The League’s executive officers in early January met with leadership in the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to discuss League strategic priorities and goals, including concerns about affordable housing. Executive officers also met with leaders from the California Building Industry Association to discuss shared priorities and how we can partner, especially around the need for affordable housing. 
  • Outreach to County Partners: Executive Director Chris McKenzie recently met with the County Administrative Officers (CAOs) and specifically discussed League priorities around housing affordability and homelessness. Discussion ensued on the possibility of forming a joint task force with the CAOs on homelessness issues. 
  • Internal Homeless Working Group: The League convened an informal homelessness working group last fall comprised of city staff and elected officials from 19 diverse cities to help the organization craft positions on how state policies can best serve local communities in addressing this crisis. The committee examined what currently works at the local level, cities’ needs and the ways in which state and federal programs and policies are successful or problematic in the effort to address homelessness. Local governments, nonprofits and social service agencies are innovating at the local level with solutions to get people housed and into the treatment programs they need to permanently get off the streets. Funding is one of the greatest challenges to success.

    The group drafted a series of principles that League policy committees adopted in mid-January. The principles recommended that the League should support legislation and advocate for additional funding for emergency housing, affordable housing, mental health, permanent supportive housing, homelessness prevention programs, etc. Recommendations were also made to support funding streams that are flexible and that incentivize regional cooperation, policies or legislation that enhances the use of housing vouchers and changes in problematic policies or regulations that hinder work in this area to name a few. These principles will be considered by the board of directors when it meets Feb. 18-19. The consensus is clear — California needs legislation that combats homelessness should focus on solutions and provide resources that get people off the streets and into shelter and housing. 
Recent Legislative Action
  • Fall Informational Hearings: During the fall recess, several Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearings were held focused on homelessness, housing affordability and crisis, mental health and other services for veterans.  
  • Senator Kevin de León Launches Ambitious Funding Proposal: Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) announced on Jan. 5 a bipartisan proposal to fund efforts to combat homelessness and help California’s lowest income residents. Called No Place Like Home, the Senate leader projects that this initiative would fund 10,000 or more housing units throughout the state. This constructive approach would establish a $2 billion bond to build permanent supportive housing for mentally ill homeless individuals to be funded by the Mental Health Service Act (Proposition 63 of 2004). 
  • Other Helpful Legislation: Feb. 19 is the Legislative deadline to introduce bills. Numerous bills are expected to be introduced in the coming weeks aimed at providing additional resources for affordable housing. 
  • Upcoming Hearing: The Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee will hold an informational hearing on Feb. 25 titled Challenges and Opportunities: Homelessness in California’s Local Communities. 
  • Proposal to Remove Local Authority: Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge) recently introduced SB 876, which proposes to reduce local regulatory authority to address homeless activities in public and private spaces. While the author may be well-intended, the League disagrees that removing local authority to regulate homeless activities offers a solution; rather it would compound problems for local communities. The League’s opposition letter is online. 
Next Steps
City officials should expect a robust discussion in the Legislature this year on how to respond to housing affordability and chronic homelessness challenges. That’s positive and appropriate. The League will engage in these discussions and advocate for constructive proposals that bring resources and assist local agencies. While there will be opportunities to secure significant additional resources, clearly local control and flexibility must be protected as well. Legislators should be encouraged to help not hinder local efforts to address affordable housing challenges.

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