SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom has agreed to release $1 billion in state funding for the homeless that he tentatively put on hold earlier this month, but only if local governments agree to step up their aggressive plans to reducing the number of homeless people in the state.
The Democratic governor said his Friday afternoon meeting with about 100 mayors and local officials in person and in person was productive, with leaders on the same page about what needs to be done and willing to step up their goals.
“It was nice to hear their progress. And it was nice to hear their recognition that we need to get to another level,” he told reporters after the two-hour meeting. “What I want to see is what everyone wants to see: California’s roads cleaned up. We want to see the camps cleared, we want to see people housed.”
Newsom, who was re-elected this month, is poised in his second term to show a reduction in the growing number of homeless people, some of whom camp on city sidewalks and under freeway underpasses, angering even the most politically liberal voters. in the country’s most populous state.
He surprised the state when he announced two weeks ago that he would withhold $1 billion in spending until cities and counties come up with stronger plans, calling the submitted plans “simply unacceptable” because they would collectively reduce the state’s homeless population by just 2% more. the next four years.
Mayors and county officials — many of them Democrats — as well as low-income housing advocates pushed back against his effort to cut funding, saying it was counterproductive to withhold money needed for shelter beds, workers and other services for the homeless. They pleaded with the governor for more direction — as well as guaranteed, ongoing funding to build more ambitious plans.
On Friday, he reiterated the record amount of money his administration has spent on housing and homelessness, including a recent pledge by state lawmakers to spend $15.3 billion over the next three years. The money kept tens of thousands of people housed, he said, but he acknowledged that people weren’t seeing results on the streets.
Newsom said he doesn’t plan to turn his back on local governments, but that “finding new dedicated money as we go into a recession with headwinds, we have to be sober about that — like they’re sober about that with their budgets.” .
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg defended Newsom, saying after the meeting that he understood the governor’s need to challenge local governments to action. He praised Newsom for his leadership on the issue — from turning motels into homes to new mental health courts to treat homeless people with schizophrenia and other serious mental health conditions.
But not everyone understood the point of Friday’s meeting.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who joined virtually, said there are too many people and too little room for “honest, constructive dialogue.” He and other mayors were told several days ago that Newsom planned to release the money if they submitted new plans.
By and large, the governor seemed to be on a different page than the state housing department, which worked with San Jose and other cities on their initial plans, said Liccardo, also a Democrat.
“There seem to be countervailing perceptions of what is required,” he said.
The California State Association of Counties was blunt in its criticism.
“We cannot fix an ongoing crisis with one-off commitments. Progress requires clear state, county and city roles aligned with sustainable, equitable funding. We have to get out of our own way and work together,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the association that represents the state’s 58 counties.
Addressing homelessness has for decades been left to local governments in California, but Newsom took office in 2019 pledging to own an issue he said he understood well as the former mayor of San Francisco, where encampments crowd sidewalks and people in clear mental health crisis . a common sight.
California had an estimated 161,000 homeless people in 2020, with the number expected to be higher this year, a result of the state’s high housing costs and historic housing infrastructure. Homeless advocates say they can’t keep up, and that even when they find housing for some, many more are losing their homes.
That possibility of a separate funding stream for the homeless grew dimmer this week after state officials announced Wednesday that California will likely run a $25 billion budget deficit next year after a string of historic surpluses.
The state’s 13 largest cities, 58 counties and 44 homeless service provider groups submitted 75 applications detailing their plans to spend $1 billion in the third round of disbursements.
An additional billion dollars is on the table, but Newsom won’t release that money unless those administrations commit “to being more aggressive across the board,” said Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. Plans are due in two weeks.
Applicants must also agree to implement as many best practices as possible, including more effective methods for getting people into housing and streamlining the construction of more houses for poor and ultra-poor households.
The Newsom administration is also cracking down on California cities and counties that are reluctant to build more housing, including affordable housing, with many saying they don’t want the congestion and neighborhood changes that come with more people.
AP reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed reporting from Sacramento, California.