California Gov. Gavin Newsom will announce plans Thursday to build 1,200 tiny houses across the state as part of an effort to help house the nation’s largest homeless population and to address an issue that has persistently plagued the state. during his time in office.
The announcement, confirmed by the governor’s office, will be made in Sacramento on the first stop of Newsom’s planned four-city tour, during which major policy announcements on housing, health care and public safety are expected. The tour is replacing the traditional state of the state address by the governor.
Newsom dedicated his 2020 State of the State address to homelessness, calling it a “shame” in a land of such wealth. Home to nearly 40 million people, California has nearly a third of the nation’s homeless population, and their numbers are growing much faster than other states, according to an analysis of federal data by the Public Policy Institute of California.
The governor has approved more than $22.3 billion in new housing and homeless spending since taking office, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, but the homeless population has continued to grow.
Newsom said the state will pay to build and install the 1,200 tiny houses, which can be built quickly and placed on public land to house people living in encampments along roads and rivers. Sacramento will get 350 homes, Los Angeles will get 500, San Jose will get 200, and San Diego will get 150.
“In California, we’re using every tool in our toolbox, including the largest tiny house implementation in the state, to get people out of encampments and into housing,” Newsom said. “The homelessness crisis will never be solved without first solving the housing crisis: the two problems are inextricably linked.”
Newsom’s office did not say how much the houses will cost or where they will go. It would be up to local governments to decide the latter, which could be tricky as many residents may not want homes close to where they live.
Most of the state funding for homeless programs has gone to local governments. But the lack of progress has led the governor to clash with local leaders.
Last fall, Newsom delayed $1 billion of funding for homeless programs from local government because he didn’t like how they planned to spend it. Cumulatively, local government plans aimed to reduce the homeless population by just 2%. Newsom later released the money after a meeting with local leaders.
On Thursday, the governor said local leaders revised their plans with a goal of a 15% reduction. Newsom said he likes him much better and announced that he will free up another billion dollars.
California’s homelessness problem is in part a byproduct of the affordable housing shortage, a problem that advocates say affects far more people than just those living on the streets.
Leaders of the state’s largest cities and counties want Sacramento to more clearly define its role in addressing homelessness and how the state will measure the success of local programs that receive state funds.
Currently, state funding for homelessness has “all kinds of rules that have to be implemented and half a dozen different state departments involved in finding a program,” said Graham Knauss, executive director of the California State Association of Counties. “That has to change. That’s not government at its best.”
The association’s solution is to ask the state Legislature to pass laws that clearly define state and local government responsibilities, along with recurring state funding for local governments each year. Knauss said the association is talking to lawmakers and the governor’s office about passing the legislation.
“We certainly shouldn’t expect that we’re going to make continued progress on homelessness while using one-off funds to do it,” he said.
The stakes are high for people like 18-year-old Nathen Avelar, who has struggled with unstable housing for most of his life. Avelar grew up with his mother and his twin brother in the Central Valley city of Merced, where he said there are lots of new homes, but they are all out of reach for him.
For a few years they lived in a house infested with mold, which aggravated his brother’s asthma and forced them to leave. They moved in with their grandmother; if it weren’t for their home, which they often shared with various other family members, Avelar said they likely would have been homeless.
“I remember a couple of times we drove around looking for houses, and we always saw these nice houses on the street and knew we could never afford them,” he said. “That was really discouraging.”
Avelar, who worked part-time for a voter engagement group that supported Newsom during a failed impeachment attempt in 2021, said he wants the governor’s administration to build more affordable housing.