Calif. Lawmaker Wants to Force Cities to Reduce Homelessness

Cities would have to plan to lower homelessness by 90 percent before 2030

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As California continues to suffer the worst homelessness crisis in the country, a state lawmaker from San Francisco wants to require cities to mobilize in addressing the issue.

Assemblyman David Chiu introduced AB 816 on Wednesday, which would require state and local governments to develop plans to reduce homelessness by 90 percent from their current levels by December 31, 2029. The legislation would hold governments accountable to what they can fiscally bear by establishing a Housing and Homelessness Inspector General position that could take legal action against local governments for failing to submit or follow their plan.

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There are currently more than 150,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in California, according to state estimates. That’s easily the largest population of unsheltered people in the nation.

There is currently no legal requirement for local governments to take steps to reduce homelessness in California, according to Chiu’s office. His bill looks to address the lack of coordinated planning. Many municipalities work to house homeless people, but “others have taken no action and perpetuate myths about homelessness that allow them to shirk responsibility all together.” 

“State and local governments need to be rowing in the same direction toward the same goal if we are ever to see a significant reduction in homelessness,” Chiu said in a statement announcing the bill. “Homelessness is the moral crisis of our time, and this bill ensures governments at all levels are responsible for addressing it.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who represents parts of Los Angeles, said there is “no reason why local municipalities shouldn’t be legally required to quickly house as many people as possible,” especially with the spreading coronavirus. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said in a statement that it “should no longer be optional for governments” to ensure everyone has an affordable place to live. 

AB 816 is expected to be heard by the California State Assembly’s policy committee this spring.

The state government has battled local governments recently over housing production requirements. In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the state to sue the city of Huntington Beach for rejecting development and refusing to rezone enough property to meet denser housing requirements.