By David M. Greenwald
This weekend, the LA Times Editorial Board called out city and county officials who on the one hand rallied in Sacramento last week to demand $3 billion in state funding to ease homelessness, while at the same time “the League of California Cities, a lobbying association that represents cities, and some local governments are trying to block bills that would make it easier to build more housing, including affordable housing.
“That’s some nerve,” the Times wrote. “Pouring money into homelessness efforts without also making it much faster and cheaper to build housing, especially affordable homes, is a fool’s errand.”
Once again the Times directly linked the homeless crisis in California to “the high cost of housing, and that’s a result of cities and counties failing for decades to permit enough homes to keep up with demand.”
As they point out—correctly, “The shortage has driven up housing costs for everyone, but the lack of cheap housing makes life particularly precarious for people with low income or struggling with mental health, drug addiction or other challenges; if they lose their housing, it can be extremely difficult to find another home they can afford.”
Locally we have seen much the same game playing. Slow growth forces have attempted to block or stall or slow housing production locally through growth control measures like Measure J—but what we have discovered over the last twenty years is that such efforts, while successful at limiting growth and preserving agricultural land, have downside costs.
The school district has finally spoken out to the city about the impact of declining enrollment on our schools. That is a direct result of the pricing of middle income families out of the community or the failure to provide many who work at the school district or UC Davis with the housing they can afford, to live in this community and continue to provide the children necessary to fund our schools.
But the homeless crisis has the potential to impact everyone. At a time when the homeless population across the country has been relatively stable, it has exploded in communities in California.
This is rapidly becoming a public health crisis—with people on the streets with untreated mental illness and substance use disorder creating a huge public nuisance that can become a breeding ground for disease and various forms of crime.
As the Times points out: “The efforts to ease the homelessness crisis are stymied by the limited pool of cheap rentals and regulated affordable housing.”
The Times explains that, while cities and counties are working to find ways to get people off the streets, “too often people get stuck in interim housing because there aren’t enough affordable apartments or units in supportive housing developments to move them into.”
As we have seen in Davis with recent housing proposals, “California needs to build a lot more housing, for all income levels.”
There continue to be barriers not just locally but statewide with “the high cost of development, lengthy approval processes and political uncertainties.”
The people most vulnerable to the housing crisis are those who are living on the margins between homes and houselessness.
The LA Times calls out cities and organizations that are asking for more state funding while at the same time “fighting efforts to reduce those obstacles and create more opportunities for residential development.”
The League of California Cities in particular has earned the ire of many housing advocates because they have become a barrier to new housing legislation.
The LA Times points out: “The league has opposed or failed to support some of the most important housing reforms passed by the state since 2017, including laws making it easier for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs), removing barriers to build homeless housing, streamlining affordable and mixed-income developments, encouraging developers to turn moribund commercial properties into residential projects, and requiring cities to plan and zone for more housing.”
League officials complain that these laws require staff time and funding to implement the new laws, “which makes it harder for them to create local policies to address housing and homelessness.”
That may be, but what I have seen is the main argument used by the League has to do with the loss of local discretion.
The Times points out: “California’s housing crisis was decades in the making and it will take years to ease it. But new laws are beginning to have an effect.”
It’s a slow process and it feels like every step is a war unto itself.
The Times points out some of the success of SB 35—which, by the way, is what has allowed the imposing of the Builder’s Remedy in Davis and what will become the center point of what figures to be the latest land use battle as Palomino attempts to use the Builder’s Remedy to compel the city to process their application.
The Times points out that SB 35 is “a law that prohibits cities from rejecting or shrinking projects that comply with local zoning; the law shaves months or years off the usual approval timeline. Despite the proven success, the league and some cities oppose making SB 35 permanent and expanding its reach.
“Local governments are right about the need for ongoing, guaranteed funding for cities and counties to address homelessness,” the Times concludes. “But perhaps city and county officials would find a more receptive audience in Sacramento if they stopped fighting housing laws and started embracing housing development.”