The Lookout: Cal bill aims to end homelessness; make housing a basic human right

By Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media




Watching your tax dollars, elected officials and legislation that affects you.


While some might debate if shelter is a basic human right, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that it isn't essential to an individual's quality of life. And in California, where just about every aspect of the nation's housing crisis is on full display, housing laws become all the more consequential. Especially during a global pandemic.


In the California Legislature, there are a few bills being proposed to curtail – if not finally end -- some of the most pressing housing issues over the course of the next few years.


For those in need of immediate shelter, Assembly Bill (AB) 1372 would "require every city, or every county in the case of unincorporated areas, to provide every person who is homeless, as defined, with temporary shelter, mental health treatment, resources for job placement, and job training -- until the person obtains permanent housing, if the person has actively sought temporary shelter in the jurisdiction for at least three consecutive days and has been unable to gain entry into all temporary shelters they sought for specified reasons," according to the language of the bill.


AB 1372, which Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) introduced, has been submitted to both the Judiciary and the Human and Community Development committees for review. No hearing has been announced yet.


On March 25, a number of unhoused individuals were cleared out of Echo Park in Los Angeles as the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) put a fence around the area where many of them had set up tents. The action by law enforcement was met with spirited protests from community members looking to protect the homeless population seeking shelter in the area.


"The biggest pandemic in years actually turned out to be a blessing for us," the Echo Park Tent Community said in a statement. "Without the constant LAPD and city harassment uprooting our lives we've been able to grow... to come together as a community, not just unhoused but housed as well and work together for the mutual aid and benefit of each other."


AB 1372 will also require counties and cities to put forth a plan to temporarily shelter unhoused individuals.


"This bill would require every city, county, and city and county to adopt a plan, subject to approval by the Department of Housing and Community Development, to provide for temporary shelter for persons who are homeless in its jurisdiction, as specified," the bill reads. "By imposing additional duties on cities and counties, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program."


Speaking of putting forth plans, another bill being proposed to tackle the state’s homelessness crisis is Assembly Bill (AB) 816. This legislation would require the state to put together an analysis in order to build a financial plan to meet certain annual benchmarks with the end goal of reducing homelessness by 90% by the year 2029.


Proposed by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), this ambitious bill would, if passed, go into effect on or before Jan. 1, 2023. In February, the legislation was referred to the Assembly committee on Homelessness and Community Development for review.


“We need everyone to pull their weight,” Chiu told the Sacramento Bee. “We want to make the system very clear that there is accountability.”


According to a federal report by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Office of Community Planning and Development, California accounted for 51% of the entire nation's homeless population in 2020. The study also found that almost 40% percent of the nation's homeless population in January of 2020 were Black or African American.


AB 816 would also provide a governor-appointed homelessness inspector general.


Transitioning from homelessness to another housing-related issue, transportation, Assembly Bill (AB) 1401 would prohibit local governments from imposing or enforcing minimum parking requirements on residential developments if said development is within walking distance of public transit.


As it currently stands, there are cities where the law mandates there be a certain amount of parking spaces for housing units or other residential properties.


These parking space requirements take up space that some experts believe could be utilized for affordable housing.


For example, in San Diego, there must be at least one parking space per bedroom or housing unit by law, which could cost up to $90,000 per space. That was until the San Diego City Council voted to remove these parking requirements on March 4.


AB 1401, which Assemblymembers Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Alex Lee (D-San Jose), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) co-sponsored, would take that mandate statewide.


In the upper house of the State Legislature, Senate Bill (SB) 15 would incentivize local governments, by way of grants, to rezone idle building sites intended for retail or commercial projects to instead be used for housing.


The bill also goes into detail about how cities would qualify for the grants.


"In order to be eligible for a grant, the bill would require a local government, among other things, to apply to the department for an allocation of grant funds and provide documentation that it has met specified requirements, including certain labor-related requirements," the bill reads. "The bill would make the allocation of these grants subject to appropriation by the Legislature in the annual Budget Act or other statute."


There is no doubt that California's housing crisis is dire, justifying these bills, and the many others, being presented to handle this behemoth. While a house is not always a home, a roof is always a blessing, and it is the hope of many that sweeping legislation might go a long way in securing that blessing for more Californians.