Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday threw his support behind an ambitious $2-billion plan to build housing for California's mentally ill homeless population.
The governor's action comes as cities from Los Angeles to San Francisco, have seen increases in homelessness in recent years, sparked in part by rising rents that have pushed poor people into shantytowns on city sidewalks and canyons.
Under the plan, the state would issue $2 billion in bonds, which would be repaid over 20 to 30 years with money provided under Proposition 63, the "millionaires' tax" for mental health services that voters approved in 2004.
Proponents said money from the bond, together with federal and local funding, would finance 10,000 to 14,000 new housing units for the state's 116,000 homeless people, an estimated 30% of whom have mental illness.
It would make the most significant boost in state funding for the homeless in years.
Though Brown's support is an important milestone, the proposal faces legal and political hurdles. A two-thirds supermajority vote in the Legislature would be necessary for the plan's passage, requiring the Democratic majority to find at least some support from Republicans.
Democratic leaders, noting support from some Republicans, including Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas), said the governor's backing — released as part of his revised budget — is a tremendous boost.
"This a huge step forward to have the governor and the Legislature on the same page, recognizing that housing and homelesness is a big priority," said former Senate president Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who helped conceive the plan. "Homelessness knows no partisan lines."
Los Angeles County has the most homeless without shelter in the nation, studies have found, and over the year, local officials have made tackling the problem a top priority.
The city of Los Angeles has approved a $1.87-billion plan to boost homeless housing, but it's unclear where the money would come from.
Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to spend $138 million this year on general homeless services, but the city is still looking for how to cover half those costs.
Los Angeles County has set aside $150 million and is talking about creating a "millionaire's tax" or some other funding source to help pay for more homeless services.
The state bond alone would not relieve the region's homelessness crisis. L.A. County leaders estimated that would take 15,341 more units of so-called permanent supportive housing to do that.
But they said the bond would be a significant boost.
The governor, in his budget proposal, placed part of the blame for the problem on local land use restrictions, and called on elected leaders to facilitate affordable housing construction.
"Local land use decisions surrounding housing production have contributed to low inventories — even though demand has steadily increased," his message said.
The bond money would be awarded based on a competitive grant basis, leaders said. Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said that although it's not clear yet how much of the bond funding would come here, she believes the county should get a large share, based on the size of its homeless population.
Supervisor Sheila Keuhl said the county would continue its effort regardless of whether the state bond moves forward.
"No matter how much money we can put together, it's going to be hard to solve the problem 100%," she said. "If we were to address the whole problem, we would need more than that."
Ruth Schwartz, a longtime homeless housing official and executive director of Shelter Partnership in Los Angeles, said advocates had been calling on the state for years to get involved in helping ease the homeless problems.
Brown's support of the measure represented a major shift, she said.
"This is just a huge pivot for the governor," she said.