Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to solve California’s homelessness crisis, a problem that has deepened in cities big and small since he took office in January.
Running for governor, he pledged to appoint a cabinet-level homelessness czar ‒ a promise we rated ‘Stalled’ last month after a lack of action.
But he also committed to expanding homeless services, one of a dozen specific promises PolitiFact California is tracking on the Newsom-Meter.
Here's what he pledged:
"Expand social services, healthcare (including mental health), bridge housing, and permanent supportive housing" for homeless people.
-- Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018 website
We rated that promise 'In the Works' in February after Newsom called for spending $625 million on services for homeless people in his first state budget and for speeding up the construction of homeless shelters and housing through a streamlined review process.
Eight months later, we wanted to know what additional progress he has made, and whether there’s evidence to change our rating or keep it the same.
‘More money than we’ve ever seen’
Our look at Newsom’s actions comes as Californians are growing more concerned over the homeless crisis.
A Public Policy Institute of California survey released this week found 15 percent cited homelessness as the state’s biggest problem, tied with the economy for top problems overall. It was the first time homelessness has ever been ranked at the top in more than two decades of PPIC surveys.
To check for progress, we examined the budget Newsom approved in June, as well as a package of 13 homelessness bills he signed last week, many of which are designed to speed up shelter construction.
The spending plan includes $1 billion for homelessness, an historic amount according to the governor and advocates for homeless people. It includes $650 million in one-time funds to build and expand "emergency shelters and navigation centers, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, job programs, and for innovative projects like hotel/motel conversions," according to the state’s budget summary.
"The budget is more money than we’ve ever seen," said Sharon Rapport, associate director of the California Policy Corporation for Supportive Housing. "Of course, I’m an advocate. So, I think he could do a lot more."
Newsom should, for example, make this year’s one-time funding permanent, suggested Rapport, who serves on the governor’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors. The state also needs to better coordinate how money goes out the door, she said, noting a cabinet level secretary would help with that effort.
In a news release last week, the governor agreed with the need to distribute funds more quickly and urged the council to identify ways to do that. He also praised the state’s early progress boosting homeless services.
"Homelessness is a national emergency that demands more than just words, it demands action," Newsom said. "State government is now doing more than ever before to help local governments fight homelessness, expand proven programs and speed up rehousing."
Funds for people at risk of becoming homeless
The governor also ramped up funding for several programs that could help those at risk of becoming homeless, said Anya Lawler, a housing advocate at Western Center on Law and Poverty, who also serves on the council.
That includes a $600 million increase of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which will expand the number of low-income Californians who receive the credit from 2 million to 3 million. It also includes Newsom’s expansion of Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults, Lawler said.
"Unfortunately, this year’s budget didn’t include funding to restore massive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) grant cuts from a decade ago, which we hope will be on the Governor’s agenda in the near future. This is critical since the fastest growing segment of the newly homeless is seniors," she added.
Package of homelessness bills
Several of the bills Newsom signed are meant to speed up the construction of homeless projects and give cities and counties more control over that process. For example, AB 1197 by Asm. Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, exempts supportive housing and shelter projects from certain environmental reviews in the city of Los Angeles.
AB 143 by Asm. Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Los Angeles, allows Alameda and Orange counties, including all of the cities in those counties, plus San Jose, to declare a shelter crisis to suspend state health, planning, zoning and safety standards to expedite construction.
"I think it’s a beginning," Lisa Hershey, executive director of Housing California, said of Newsom’s bill signings and budget. She added the governor can leave "a deeper mark" on the crisis by signing a few additional bills, including AB 1482.
That bill would cap rent increases at 5 percent plus the cost of inflation during any 12-month period. The maximum combined increase per year would be set at 10 percent.
Newsom worked with lawmakers and business groups in late August to come to an agreement on that bill. He is expected to sign it this month. The governor’s news release includes a full list and summary of the homelessness bills he signed last week.
Newsom’s budget and the legislation he signed represent a large step forward on his promise to expand homeless services. They are evidence that he’s not only proposed solutions but is following through on them.
We’ll continue to track this topic, including whether the added funds and fast-tracked construction plans quickly translate into actual, on-the-ground expansion of social, healthcare and housing services Newsom pledged.
For now, we rate the governor's promise 'In the Works.'
In the Works — This indicates the promise has been proposed or is being considered.
Track Gov. Gavin Newsom's progress, or lack thereof, on his campaign promises on our Newsom-Meter page.
Lisa Hershey, executive director, Housing California, phone interview Sept. 27, 2019
Sharon Rapport, Associate Director, California Policy Corporation for Supportive Housing, phone interview, Oct. 1, 2019
Anya Lawler, housing advocate, Western Center on Law and Poverty, email exchange Oct. 2, 2019
Gov. Gavin Newsom, news release, Sept. 26, 2019
California State Budget, homelessness summary, accessed October 2019
Public Policy Institute of California, PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government, September 2019
PolitiFact California, What has California Gov. Gavin Newsom done so far for the homeless?, Feb. 25, 2019
PolitiFact California, Dispelling myths about California's homeless, June 28, 2018
PolitiFact California, Has California's homeless population 'skyrocketed'? And how does it rate nationwide?, March 27, 2018
PolitiFact California, Fact-checking claims on California’s unsheltered homeless population, July 25, 2019