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Housing In Brief: Newsom Agrees To Fund Local Governments’ Homeless Services

Tenant advocates head to the White House, and more.

Dominique Walker, left, and Sharena Thomas, both from the group Moms 4 Housing, cheer during a rally outside of City Hall in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Newsom Backtracks on Funding For Homelessness Services

On Nov. 3, with an election five days away, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was withholding $1 billion in funding for homeless services until mayors could provide a more detailed plan on how they would spend the money. He also asked them to plan for more ambitious reductions in homelessness, saying the plans they submitted would only decrease homelessness by 2%. Critics saw the announcement as a way to shift blame to localities, ahead of a reelection campaign in which homelessness had become a major issue. Newsom told the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a crisis. Act like it. Everybody step up. I’m not the mayor.”

But Newsom appeared to backpedal on Nov. 18, announcing that most jurisdictions would get funding without a more aggressive plan, according to Cal Matters. As Cal Matters reports, many cities and states set their goals low in their homelessness plans because the state’s grant rewarded jurisdictions for meeting self-reported targets.

The governor is instead only asking localities to sign a pledge affirming that they will submit more ambitious targets for the next round of $1 billion grants. The state’s homelessness population has increased by at least 22,500 people since 2019.

Judge Rejects Settlement in L.A. County Homelessness Lawsuit

An over two-year old federal lawsuit against L.A. County calling for it to do more to resolve the homelessness crisis will be stretched out longer. U.S. District Court Judge David Carter rejected a settlement from the county which he said did not go far enough, according to Courthouse News. The county had agreed to spend an additional $236 million on services, outreach and housing, including funding 300 additional beds for people experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues.

Carter said 300 additional beds would not be nearly enough. He also said he wanted to wait for the newly-elected mayor, Karen Bass, to be comfortable with any deal.

The judge reached a separate agreement with the city of Los Angeles in April 2022 stemming from the same lawsuit, but additional funding from that agreement will go primarily to increase shelter capacity. The lawsuit was filed in March 2020 by an organization calling itself “LA Alliance For Human Rights” that, despite its name, vilifies unhoused residents on its website, including calling for a ban on public homelessness and “removing those who exist to prey on those vulnerable and the communities in which they reside.”

In its initial legal complaint, the group blamed advocates for the homelessness crisis, claiming they lobbied legislators to “generally make it more comfortable for people to live on the streets.” While multiple unhoused people are named as plaintiffs in the complaint, its language calls for increasing shelter beds so that jurisdictions can comply with Martin V. Boise, which limits prohibitions on public camping when there is not available shelter space.

Notably, the county’s proposed settlement will only go towards services and housing and will not go toward enforcement. So nonprofits and advocates who opposed the city settlement are on board with the county’s proposal, according to Courthouse News.

Activists Lobby White House on Tenant Protections

On Nov. 15, Biden administration officials including policy advisor Susan Rice met with over 70 advocates, policy experts and tenant leaders at the White House to discuss ways the president can increase affordability and boost tenant protections. According to NPR, advocates proposed that Biden set rent caps in buildings with federally-backed mortgages, and even wrote text for a proposed executive order that would allow him to do so.

The national Homes Guarantee Campaign has other demands for the White House, including building a national landlord registry for all buildings receiving federal subsidies or with federally-backed mortgages, establishing a national right to lease renewal for said units and setting up a federal office of tenant protections within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Biden Administration did not elaborate on any of the demands in its public statement on the meeting.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.

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