For all of the disagreements over how best to solve the affordable housing crisis, most Californians can agree that the problem ultimately stems from a shortage of housing. Developers should be building 180,000 units every year just to keep up with population growth, but over the past decade, the state has averaged less than half of that.
That’s why voters should jump at the chance to approve Propositions 1 and 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot. Both statewide measures come with a promise of more housing for those Californians who need it most.
Proposition 1, backed by the deep pockets of a foundation started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, would authorize $4 billion in state bonds for a laundry list of housing programs, projects, grants and loans.
The measure is mostly being sold as a boon for military veterans, which it is. The state’s CalVet Home Loan Program would get $1 billion to be doled out to veterans who want to buy houses, farms and mobile homes.
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Having such a targeted program is important for California, home to more homeless veterans than anywhere else in the country. For years, their numbers had dwindled, the result of a coordinated effort to increase funding for intervention programs under the Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Housing and Urban Development. But that all changed in 2017 when housing prices spiked along more of the West Coast.
Proposition 1 also sets aside $1.5 billion to help struggling families with loans to build and renovate rental housing. Millions more dollars would go toward grants for infrastructure to support more infill, high-density, affordable housing; forgivable loans for mortgage assistance; housing for farm workers; and matching grants for pilot programs to demonstrate “cost-saving approaches to creating or preserving affordable housing.”
And significantly, $150 million would be used to encourage cities and counties to develop more housing near transit stops — an eminently logical idea that, while promoted in a bill from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, died in the Legislature earlier this year.
To solve the housing crisis, we need all of this and more. And while some taxpayers might understandably be concerned about the $170 million a year that the state will need to repay over the next 35 years, this is one debt that is worth it.
Thanks to the housing crisis, California also has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in homelessness. Nearly a quarter of the men, women and children who don’t have a permanent residence live here, increasingly in tents on street corners and often with an untreated mental illness.
Proposition 2 would address that.
The measure would finally let counties use money from Proposition 63 to pay for the construction of permanent housing for homeless people, as long as that housing includes a direct connection to supportive social services.
Voters initially approved Proposition 63, commonly known as the Mental Health Services Act, in 2004. It was written by then-Sen. Darrell Steinberg, who after becoming mayor of Sacramento, worked with Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, to get the Legislature to tweak it in 2016. The result was the No Place Like Home program, which authorized the use of money from Proposition 63 to finance $2 billion in revenue bonds for programs to alleviate homelessness.
The program has been tied up in the courts ever since. Proposition 2 would end that legal maneuvering once and for all.
For voters, approving this measure should be a no-brainer. Treatment for mental illness and addiction can only help so much when people are forced to return to the trauma of living on the streets. Far more effective are programs that include stable housing, and yet cities and counties across California don’t have the money to provide that.
In Sacramento County, supervisors hope to use money from No Place Like Home to expand programs proven to get people off the streets for good. Steinberg has grand plans for the funding, too, as the city’s housing prices and homeless population continue to rise.
This is why voters should approve Proposition 2.