The Legislature can do an immediate legislative fix
The Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review authored AB 101, which provides for statutory changes needed to enact the housing and homelessness-related provisions of the Budget Act of 2019.
In short, the Legislature is making legislative changes to the legislatively-created housing and homeless problem in California, according to Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber). Nielsen said, “some of those have been foisted on that community by this Legislature.”
AB 101 would require the state Office of Audits and Evaluation to audit the Community-Based Transitional Housing Program, which provides grants to cities and counties to increase the supply of transitional housing available to recent parolees, and to report the results of the audit to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee by May 1, 2020. Current law requires the Office of State Audits and Evaluations to complete the audit and to report to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee by May 1, 2019.
But if the city or county does not properly comply, punishment will come from the Attorney General.
Senators spoke in favor of the bill, and it was passed by the Senate 39-0. However, many Senators still blame the homeless explosion on lack of affordable housing in California, and not on opioid drug addiction and the crime used to support the habit, serious mental illness, other addictions, as well as the laws which decriminalized drug crimes, violent sex crimes, theft, as well as elder and dependent adult abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, rape… many crimes previously considered violent.
Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), called the crisis an “urgent moral issue,” and said, “only permanent housing solves homelessness.”
Some Senators blame the affordable housing crisis on wages in the state not being high enough to afford skyrocketing rents. Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) said half of the people living on the streets “have jobs, but don’t make enough money.” She said they “live in cars or on someone’s sofa.”
Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) addressed the seriously mentally ill and the need for involuntary housing. “What about those who cannot take care of themselves?” Moorlach asked.
The bill seems heavy handed if the goal is to quickly build more affordable and transitional housing and get people off of the streets.
The bill analysis said this bill would require Housing and Community Development to offer the city/county the opportunity for two meetings (in person or telephone) to discuss their violations and to provide the city/county written findings regarding the violation prior to allowing the Attorney General to bring suit against the city or county. It would then allow the Attorney General to seek, and a court to allow, certain remedies when the court finds that a local jurisdiction is not substantially compliant with housing element law.
AB 101 would require the California Attorney General to request, upon a finding of the court that the housing element of a city or county does not substantially comply, that the court issue an order or judgement directing the city/county to bring its housing element into compliance, and would require the court to retain jurisdiction to ensure that its order or judgement is carried out. Once the court determines that the housing element substantially complies, this bill would provide that the court determination has the same force and effect as HCD’s determination that the housing element substantially complies.
Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) expressed concern that AB 101 too narrowly defines who can receive the housing benefit. Skinner said if someone is already homeless, or of they are within 14-days from being evicted/homeless, they qualify. But, Sen. Skinner pointed out, many people move out of their rentals prior to being evicted, even if they become homeless, rather than have an eviction on their record – the kiss of death in ever qualifying for another rental. She said that homelessness in Alameda County, her district, is up over 47 percent since 2017.
In Sacramento, home of the state government, homelessness is up 56 percent in the past two years.
But too many lawmakers remained focused on the high cost of housing in California as the reason so many live on the streets in the Golden State. If that was truly the cause/effect, the Legislature could immediately suspend the state’s notorious building requirements like the California Environmental Quality Act, and require cities and counties to remove their many layers of building restrictions, regulations, permits and hefty fees, and mandate a time frame in which housing projects are approved. And they could do this under an emergency order.
However, while there is most definitely a housing shortage in California, the people with jobs who live in their cars are often young tech-industry workers living in the most expensive area of California — Palo Alto, in Santa Clara County near the San Francisco Bay area, where the median home price is $2,932,700.
Building more housing would help the cost of housing drop dramatically, eventually. But for the drug-addicted criminals, and the severely mentally ill, housing isn’t the only answer, and it may not be the right answer. Treatment for those folks is the first step. As for the violent sex offenders living on the streets instead of in jails and prisons, and the felony rapists and human sex traffickers, which are no longer considered violent felonies, the Legislature can do an immediate legislative fix.
Instead, six real criminal justice reform bills were killed last year in the California Legislature which would have expanded the definition of violent crime to include human trafficking, elder and dependent adult abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, and other crimes most Californians consider violent.
These six bills would have corrected unclear language and serious flaws in Proposition 57, passed in 2016 by voters. Prop. 57, titled the “Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative,” was to increase rehabilitation services and decrease the prison population. Though the measure passed, it was misleading on many fronts. Voters believed the title and passed the initiative.
As Prop. 57 stands, crimes such as human trafficking, child abduction, elder and dependent adult abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, and rape of an unconscious person, are no longer considered “violent crimes.”
Fixing California’s homeless crisis is a multi-pronged process, but not insurmountable. Housing is one important component, as is addressing the rampant criminal justice element, and the desperate need for mental illness treatment facilities and involuntary housing, and this can all be done immediately by this Legislature.
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