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Newsom administration to provide 1,200 tiny homes statewide

California Gov. Gavin Newsom enters a prototype of one of the tiny homes displayed at a news conference in Sacramento Calif., on Thursday, March 16, 2023. Newsom announced plans to build 1,200 tiny homes statewide to reduce homelessness.
Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo
California Gov. Gavin Newsom enters a prototype of one of the tiny homes displayed at a news conference in Sacramento Calif., on Thursday, March 16, 2023. Newsom announced plans to build 1,200 tiny homes statewide to reduce homelessness.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday his administration will provide 1,200 tiny homes to cities and counties around California in an effort to shelter unhoused people in the state, which has the highest rate of homelessness in the nation.

Sacramento will receive 350 homes, Los Angeles will get 500, San Jose will receive 200 and San Diego County will get 150, according to the governor’s office.

“I get it. You want to see progress and you want to see it now,” Newsom said at a news conference at Cal Expo, where some of the Sacramento region’s homes will be placed. “You want to see progress in terms of encampments. You want to see progress in terms of getting people off the street.”

Newsom said the tiny homes will offer local governments a way to humanely move people from encampments to shelter.

“It’s not just about sweeping things under the rug or kicking people off the streets and sidewalks and claiming a job well done,” the governor said. “That doesn’t do justice.”

Newsom’s announcement at the state fairgrounds served as the kick-off to his four-day tour across California — happening in lieu of a traditional state of the state address. The governor is expected to unveil a series of policies regarding public safety and health care costs, according to his office.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg spoke at the event and said his city welcomes the small homes, noting officials have struggled to provide shelter as the region’s unhoused population has surged.

“Despite the unprecedented commitment and investment by this governor, we still don’t have enough [shelter] beds,” Steinberg said. “We started out with less than 100 when I was [first elected] mayor. Now we’re at 1,100 beds a night and they’re full.”

The governor said the tiny homes will cost approximately $30 million and would be set up “within months, not years,” estimating they could be open by this fall. All of the homes will be wired for electricity and most will have a heating and cooling system, said Daniel Lopez, a spokesperson for the governor. Some will be plumbed for water, though others will require separate bathroom and laundry facilities, he added.

The tiny homes will be procured by the state and then delivered and set up in local communities by the California National Guard. In exchange, the cities and counties receiving the tiny homes will be expected to choose the location and provide services for the people who will be sheltered by them.

But those services won’t be cheap and the tiny homes might not open right away.

Sacramento County is already spending more than $7 million to build and operate a 100-unit tiny home village in South Sacramento. But after announcing the project last April, officials said it’s experienced $500,000 in cost overruns and won’t open until late this spring.

‘We need to focus on triaging today’

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Democrat who represents Sacramento, including the Cal Expo area, said permanent supportive housing remains the long-term answer to homelessness, “but we need to focus on triaging today.”

“Californians demand action today. We cannot wait,” McCarty said. “This helps get people out of the encampments along our beloved American River Parkway and from our central city freeways.”

McCarty added that he’s grateful the state fairgrounds will finally be used as a site for homeless housing. In 2021, Newsom signed a bill authored by McCarty to allow Cal Expo to be used for that purpose, but the siting of small homes never took place.

While Democrats praised Newsom’s plan, the state Senate’s top Republican Brian Jones of San Diego called it “another band-aid on a crisis that is out of control.”

“While I appreciate the governor’s creativity to construct 1,200 tiny homes, that is a drop in the bucket,” Jones said in a written statement.

The governor also announced a marked improvement in local governments’ plans to reduce homelessness since October, when he temporarily held back $1 billion in grantsto cities and counties, saying the combined plans would only aim to reduce homelessness by 2%.

After collecting revised plans, he said that number had increased to a 15% reduction goal statewide. The governor plans to release another $1 billion in grants under the state’s Homelessness Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) program.

The rising rate of homelessness hasexposed tensions between state and local officials about the problem. Newsom, citing billions spent to reduce homelessness in recent years, has called for stronger results and greater accountability from local governments.

Steinberg and other local officials have called for an ongoing financial commitment from the state, which they argue would help them plan years in advance for shelter and treatment.

Some, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, have also said they can’t keep up with the pace of residents falling into homelessness due to rising rents and financial instability. For every ten people the city helped get off the streets last year, Gloria said 13 more lost their housing.

‘Define who’s supposed to do what’

For years, advocates for people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento have called on the city and county to work together more effectively to confront the region’s crisis. Those calls helped push forward the region’s homelessness partnership agreement.

But there remains a lack of agreement and clarity across California over which local and state agencies are responsible for which roles in addressing the crisis. Officials have asked: How can local governments address growing homeless camps on state property, such as along freeways, when it’s not their jurisdiction? How can a city provide mental health or addiction treatment services when only county governments are funded to do so?

On Thursday morning, the California Association of Counties, CSAC, unveiled its AT HOME plan with the goal of defining those roles for all levels of government. The association advocates for county governments.

Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas, a member of CSAC’s homelessness action team, told CapRadio the plan would allow cities, counties and the state to “finally, once and for all, focus in on this issue of homelessness and how are we going to make a difference.”

“We believe the precursor to real, long-term success on homelessness is to first define who’s supposed to do what,” added CSAC executive director Graham Knaus, speaking at a press conference.

Officials said the plan would ultimately require the state’s approval to become law.

The most recent federal estimates show California’s homeless population reached more than 171,000 last year, or 30% of the nation’s total unhoused population. The vast majority of the state’s homeless population is unsheltered, meaning they live on the street, in a vehicle, an abandoned building or anywhere else considered unsuitable for habitation.

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