Gov. Jerry Brown Friday threw his support behind a $2 billion plan to build housing for California’s mentally ill homeless population.
The governor’s action comes as cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco have seen increases in homelessness as rising rents and a lack of shelter space push poor people into shantytowns on city sidewalks and in riverbeds and canyons.
Under the plan, the state would issue $2 billion in bonds. The money would be repaid over 20 to 30 years with funds provided under Proposition 63, the “millionaires tax” for mental health services that voters approved in 2004.
Proponents said money from the bonds, together with federal and local funding, would finance 10,000 to 14,000 new housing units for the state’s 116,000 homeless people, an estimated 30 percent of whom have mental illness.
The proposal faces legal and political hurdles. A two-thirds vote in the Legislature is needed for passage, requiring that the Democratic majority find some support from Republicans.
Democratic leaders have noted that Republicans including state Sen. Bob Huff already support the effort and that Brown’s backing is a big boost.
Republican Assemblyman Marc Steinorth said the plan “merits strong consideration,” but he also expressed concern.
“It is narrowly focused on a very small number of people,” he said in a statement. “Many middle-class families are struggling to afford their rent or mortgage. I believe we should include additional solutions that will help make housing affordable for all Californians.”
The bonds could mean less money for other mental health services, though exactly which programs might be affected is not clear.
Los Angeles County has the most homeless people without shelter in the nation, studies have found, and over the years, local officials have made the problem a top priority.
The city of Los Angeles has approved a $1.87 billion plan to step up homeless housing, but it’s unclear where the money would come from. Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to spend $138 million this year on general homeless services, but the city is still looking for how to cover half those costs.
“To fund this plan we will leverage every resource at our disposal — but cities alone cannot solve this crisis,” Garcetti said today.
Los Angeles County has set aside $150 million and is talking about creating a millionaires tax or some other funding source to help pay for more homeless services.
Ruth Schwartz, a longtime homeless-housing official and executive director of Shelter Partnership in Los Angeles, said advocates have been calling on the state for years to get involved in helping to ease the homeless problems.
Brown’s support of the measure represented a major shift, she said.
“This is just a huge pivot for the governor,” she said.
©2016 Los Angeles Times