SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom will announce plans Thursday to build 1,200 small homes across the state as part of an effort to help house the nation's largest homeless population and to address an issue that has persistently plagued the state during his time in office.
The announcement, confirmed by the governor's office, will come in Sacramento on the first stop of Newsom's planned four-city tour, during which major policy announcements are expected on housing, health care and public safety. The tour is replacing the governor's traditional State of the State address.
Newsom dedicated his 2020 State of the State speech to homelessness, calling it a “ disgrace ” in a land of so much wealth. California, home to nearly 40 million people, has nearly one-third of the nation's homeless population, and their numbers are growing much faster than in other states, according to an analysis of federal data by the Public Policy Institute of California.
The governor has approved more than $22.3 billion in new housing and homelessness spending since taking office, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, yet the homeless population has continued to grow.
Newsom said the state will pay to build and install the 1,200 small homes, which can be put up quickly and placed on public land to house people living in encampments along roads and rivers. Sacramento will get 350 homes, Los Angeles will get 500, San Jose will get 200 and San Diego will get 150.
"In California we are using every tool in our toolbox — including the largest-ever deployment of small homes in the state — to move people out of encampments and into housing,” Newsom said. “The crisis of homelessness will never be solved without first solving the crisis of housing — the two issues are inextricably linked."
Newsom's office did not say how much the homes will cost or where they will go. It would be up to local governments to decide the latter, which could be tricky since many residents may not want the homes near where they live.
Most of the state funding for homelessness programs has gone to local governments. But a lack of progress has led the governor to clash with local leaders.
Last fall Newsom delayed $1 billion of funding for local government homelessness programs because he didn't like how they planned to spend it. Cumulatively, the local governments' plans aimed to reduce the homeless population by just 2%. Newsom later released the money after a meeting with local leaders.
On Thursday the governor said local leaders have revised their plans with a goal of a 15% reduction. Newsom said he likes that much better and announced he is releasing another $1 billion.
California's homelessness problem is in part a byproduct of its shortage of affordable housing, an issue that advocates say impacts many more people than simply those living on the streets.
Leaders of the state's biggest cities and counties want Sacramento to define more clearly their role in addressing homelessness and how the state will measure the success of local programs that receive state funding.
Currently state homelessness funding has “all sorts of rules that have to be put in and half a dozen different state departments involved in order to find one program,” said Graham Knauss, executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “That needs to change. That is not government at its best.”
The association's solution is to ask the state Legislature to pass laws clearly defining the responsibilities of local and state government, coupled with recurring state funding for local governments every year. Knauss said the association is talking with lawmakers and the governor's office about passing legislation.
“We certainly should not expect that we’re going to get ongoing progress on homelessness while using one-time funding to do it,” he said.
The stakes are high for people like Nathen Avelar, 18, who has struggled with unstable housing most of his life. Avelar grew up with his mother and twin brother in the Central Valley city of Merced, where he said there is plenty of new housing but all out of their reach.
For a few years, they lived in a home that was infested with mold, which aggravated his brother’s asthma and forced them to leave. They moved in with his grandmother; if not for her home, which they often shared with multiple other family members, Avelar said they likely would have been homeless.
“I remember a couple of times we drove around looking for houses, and we always saw these nice houses on the street and I knew we would never be able to afford them,” he said. “That was really disheartening.”
Avelar, who worked part-time for a voter engagement group that supported Newsom during an unsuccessful 2021 recall attempt, said he wants the governor's administration to build more affordable housing.