Capitol Alert

Use tax breaks to combat homelessness, candidates for California governor say

‘We’re going to start using our money efficiently,’ says John Cox in call for gas tax repeal

Republican governor candidate John Cox speaks in favor of repealing the gas tax at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, June 18, 2018.
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Republican governor candidate John Cox speaks in favor of repealing the gas tax at the Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, June 18, 2018.

More people are homeless in California than anywhere else in the country as home prices and rental costs rise.

When state populations are taken into account, the Golden State ranks second behind Hawaii for its number of unsheltered residents.

Local officials and homelessness experts say the state must do more to address it. Among the ideas: Sustained behavioral and mental health treatment. Permanent housing tied with social safety net services and health care programs. Additional emergency shelter beds.

City and county officials also want the state to make a larger investment to help people get off the streets.

"It's going to have to be a dedicated part of our respective budgets if we're going to be committed to addressing the issue," said Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas, co-chair of a statewide "homelessness task force" who previously served on the West Sacramento City Council.

Given the demand for solutions in California, The Sacramento Bee asked both candidates for governor how they would address the problem.

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Gavin Newsom

Newsom, who confronted the issue over his two terms as mayor of San Francisco, has during the course of his campaign outlined a list of ideas that calls for new state grants for cities and counties to both build and acquire permanent housing for homeless people. Rental units would be subsidized by grant funding, and homeless people would pay a portion of any income they have once placed in the rentals.

The grants could also provide emergency rental assistance to tenants facing financial hardship.

He said he'd appoint a cabinet-type homelessness czar to spearhead a statewide approach to addressing homelessness, tailored by region. The appointee would oversee a new "Interagency Council on Homelessness," tasked with deploying resources to areas hardest hit by homelessness and coordinating outreach efforts to steer people into housing.

He would seek to increase local aid for those who meet the definition of being "chronically homeless" — people with at least one disabling condition who have been homeless for a year or more, or those who have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness over a three-year period. He'd seek to fund programs at state prisons to help move inmates immediately into housing upon release.

He wants to provide tax credits for landlords who rent to homeless people who want to get off the streets or out of temporary shelter. Additional tax credits could also be available for developers who build permanent supportive housing, to property owners who build secondary housing units on their land for homeless or low-income people and to employers who hire homeless people seeking to rebuild their lives.

State land and existing state-owned buildings could serve as development opportunities for new homelessness housing.

On the campaign trail, Newsom talks about enlisting technology to better help homeless people live their daily lives. The concept, for example, could allow homeless people to order food and have it delivered cheaply via smartphone, sign up for medical appointments, apply for food or medical benefits, check in on housing wait lists.

In an interview with reporters earlier this month, he characterized criticism of California's housing and homelessness crisis by Republican John Cox and other Republicans as fair. He said homelessness is "out of control" and the problem is "unbecoming of a state as wealthy as ours."

"If you want to criticize where we are in this state on affordability, cost of housing, cost of living, on the homeless issue — that's legit," Newsom said. "We have a responsibility — all of us — to address that. ... I want to substantively tackle those issues."

"We've been managing this problem for too long," he's fond of saying. "It's time to solve it."

It's unclear how much his ideas would cost. Asked how he'd pay for them, he said he'd provide details at a later date.

John Cox

Cox is assailing Newsom over homelessness and the escalating cost of living in the nation's largest state.

"Politicians have punted these issues away from their Chardonnay parties for too long. In the real world we have to find real solutions," Cox said in a statement provided to The Sacramento Bee.

But when asked for details on his ideas to solve the problem, Cox declined to discuss his ideas or respond to questions provided to his campaign. In a brief conversation with reporters Monday, the San Diego businessman said this: "We've got to solve the problem. We've got to build houses, but we've got to build houses inexpensively." Cox was speaking after a press conference pushing for repeal of California's gas tax increase. "Cut regulation, red tape."

Cox, a real estate investor, sees lowering taxes and overall household expenses as part of the solution.

"Many Californians may work a couple jobs, but have been forced out because of high rent or the overall cost of living. We can directly help these individuals by reducing some of the other costs they are facing, from gas to food prices, to the cost of housing," he said in the prepared statement. "I believe the first step to helping those forced into homelessness because of California's unaffordability is to reduce the daily costs like the gas tax and then get our housing costs (down) by removing unnecessary barriers to building new housing."

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