Op-Ed: “It’s hard to have faith in a state that can’t even house its people”

By Ned Resnikoff, Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, UC San Francisco, New York Times, July 26, 2021

“California [has] nearly 12 percent of the country’s total population but 28 percent of its unhoused population [January 2020]. More than half of the country’s unsheltered homeless population resides in California.

“Homelessness is solvable. Its primary driver is housing unaffordability (not … mental illness or substance use) … so the solution has always been more housing, particularly for those who don’t have it.

“Because Bay Area cities have failed to produce enough supply to keep up with population increases, lower and middle-income residents have to compete for housing with the super-wealthy, whose ability to outbid everyone else continually forces prices up. As a result, homes in Berkeley sold for about 19 percent above asking price on average in the first three months of this year, the highest citywide average in the nation.

“Building more housing would break this dynamic. But … California’s fight to expand housing supply has been stymied by what I consider vetocracy.

“[An] oft-cited example is [CEQA] which generally requires environmental impact assessments of new developments. ‘Not In My Back Yarders’ have capitalized on this prima facie reasonable requirement, burying proposed developments in litigation.

“The homelessness crisis … has directly contributed to democratic decay. California’s continual failure to make inroads against widespread homelessness risks fomenting anger, cynicism, and disaffection with the state’s political system.

“State and local policymakers need to take homelessness seriously as not only a humanitarian disaster, but a threat to liberal democracy. [That] means spending political capital to ensure that, long term, California can greatly increase its housing supply. And it means offering immediate ‘housing first’ services to those who have already been pushed into homelessness.

“To its credit, … the budget signed [in July] by Governor Newsom includes $12 billion for combating homelessness, primarily through housing-first-aligned efforts. This amount, while significant, still represents only an initial step. [Abating] homelessness … will require years more work, planning, public investment, and legal reform. The cost will be high, but the cost of inaction is far higher.”

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