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Homeless

LA County Files Amicus Brief on Homeless, but Kuehl Dissents

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by Sam Catanzaro

SANTA MONICA (Santa Monica Mirror) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has filed an amicus brief in support of the City of Boise’s pitch to the United States Supreme Court to overturn a district court ruling that prevents cities from penalizing sleeping on sidewalks.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who represents Santa Monica and is a Santa Monica resident herself, broke with colleagues and voted against supporting Boise’s action.

A federal court ruling last year in the case Martin v. City of Boise barred cities from punishing individuals from sleeping on public property unless they provide sufficient and accessible indoor housing.

“As long as there is no option of sleeping […]

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Homeless

Homeless in LA Stealing to Survive Amid Coronavirus Shutdowns

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LOS ANGELES (TMZ) — While millions in Los Angeles try to adapt to “safer at home” restrictions, the city is seeing an uptick in thefts — specifically homeless people trying to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Several grocery store employees around L.A. tell us they’re having a bigger problem than usual with homeless people stealing food. The general belief is with L.A. residents hunkered down at home, the homeless can no longer panhandle for money — so, they’re shoplifting out of desperation to eat.

We’re told some Hollywood-area grocery chains have added extra security in an effort to thwart more thefts, and some LAPD officers have given store managers their direct lines to report major issues.

Our sources say the perps are mostly taking fresh produce because that section tends to be closer to the entry and exit ways.

While grocery stores are remaining open as an “essential business” … we’re told most are allowing 50 households in when the store first opens, and then an additional 25 households every 10 mins afterward.

Customers Lining Up For Coronavirus Supplies

Our sources say the food markets have been able to keep items mostly stocked, but as long lines continue to form, the challenges — including loss prevention — aren’t going away anytime soon.

We broke the story … cops in L.A. and NYC have also been instructed to pay extra attention to non-essential stores that are now empty to combat burglaries.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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California

COVID-19 and California’s Housing Crisis: Issues to Watch

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A hand-sanitizing station at a homeless encampment near Oakland city hall. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters View Comments

by Matt Levin for CalMatters

CALIFORNIA — As the pandemic forces millions of Californians to adjust to a new reality, the words “housing crisis” provoke previously unthinkable questions: How to shelter in place without a home?

How to self-isolate in an overcrowded apartment? Less than two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California lawmakers were in the throes of tackling the twin issues voters considered the state’s most urgent concerns: the more than 150,000 Californians without a home and the state’s sky-high housing costs.

Legislators were introducing controversial bills to make it easier for developers to build more housing, hoping to ease the crippling shortage economists say have made rents and home prices among the most expensive in the country.

Newsom and local governments were about to square off over how to spend $1 billion in proposed help for the unhoused.

That feels like eons ago. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces millions of Californians to adjust to a new reality, the state’s “housing crisis” already means something different, provoking previously unthinkable questions: 

How do you shelter in place without a home? How do you self-isolate in an overcrowded apartment? How far would a $1,000 stimulus check from the federal government go toward my rent or mortgage payment? 

Here are five rapidly evolving housing issues to watch in the next few weeks, months and, yes, years. 

Issue 1: The state’s housing crisis makes it harder to respond to COVID-19

First, there’s the obvious: how to protect the more than 150,000 homeless Californians from contracting and spreading the virus. 

It’s worth reiterating here that the counts you’re hearing from state officials — 108,000 people sleeping outdoors, 43,000 in shelters — are major underestimates. Not only are those numbers more than a year old, but counting the homeless is an inherently unscientific and imprecise snapshot in time. That means more emergency housing units, money and supplies will be needed than what the official stats might indicate.  

It’s also worth reiterating that other states don’t have to worry as much about this vulnerable population as California, which has the highest number of homeless residents in the country and by far the most living outdoors. Many of those homeless are seniors who have chronic health conditions and are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. 

But there are other dimensions of the housing crisis that are making it tougher for public health authorities here to manage the pandemic. Mostly because it’s so expensive to live here, California is the worst state in the country when it comes to overcrowded housing. 

That presents complications for millions of Californians instructed to stay indoors, especially if a household member is showing symptoms of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that someone who is symptomatic should self-isolate in a “sick room” with a separate bathroom. That may not be an option. 

While the virus presents the most pressing public health risk, researchers are also concerned about the long-term physical and health effects of overcrowding if schools and workplaces remain closed for extended periods. 

“On a daily basis, people are experiencing the crowdedness of their homes for longer periods of time throughout the day,’ said Claudia Solari, who researches housing overcrowding at the Urban Institute. “That kind of longer exposure could be a problem.” 

Solari’s research finds overcrowding can be linked to physical and behavioral problems in children. 

Issue 2: Housing the unhoused amid a pandemic takes an extraordinary — and extraordinarily complicated — effort 

Newsom and local governments have announced unprecedented efforts to get people living outside to move indoors. 

The state released $100 million to local governments for emergency shelter housing, with more likely on the way; purchased more than 1,300 trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to isolate homeless people who are symptomatic; and offered to negotiate leases with more 950 hotels on behalf of counties to get more people off the streets. Two hotels have already been secured in Oakland, providing 393 rooms.

The city of Los Angeles, with the largest homeless population in the state, announced today it would convert 42 city recreation centers to emergency shelters to create 6,000 new beds. 

But as sweeping as many of these actions have been, including many long sought by advocates, the task ahead is daunting and raises tough questions for public health experts and providers of services for the homeless.

“Health and healthcare are impossible to do with homelessness, they’re incompatible,” said Dr. Margot Kushel, a UCSF homelessness researcher.

Kushel points to several difficult-to-manage scenarios that may play out in coming weeks: How to discharge someone from a hospital if they don’t have a home in which to self-isolate? How to immediately house people with substance-abuse disorders without risking their health (an alcoholic could die if immediately cut off from alcohol, for example)? What to do with an encampment if someone starts coughing and running a fever? 

That last question could be especially problematic. Kushel pushes back against the notion that large-scale sweeps may be necessary, arguing that dispersing an encampment would be an even larger public health risk. But she worries that contagion could be a pretext for governments to sweep people off the streets, especially for the Trump administration, which has threatened such action before. 

State models show that 60,000 people who are homeless could be infected by the virus, with up to 20% needing hospitalization. 

Issue 3: Renters and mortgage-holders need lots of help

“I think it’s a huge number,”said Carol Galante, director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley. 

Galante was a high-ranking official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2009 to 2014, as the Obama administration wrestled with the Great Recession. 

Galante said she could easily see this crisis become worse for renters and homeowners with mortgages unless bolder action is taken by the federal and state governments — especially for Californians. 

One simple example: the $1,000 stimulus check some federal lawmakers are pushing for all Americans. That could pretty much cover your rent for the average one-bedroom apartment in Phoenix or Dallas or Atlanta. It would cover less than half of what a one-bedroom costs in San Francisco. 

“I keep thinking of all the people whose incomes have just gone to zero,” said Galante. “Hairdressers, waiters, waitresses — they can’t pay their rent.” 

Newsom has received a flood of criticism from tenant-rights groups for not doing enough to prevent evictions in the wake of the pandemic. An executive order the governor issued this week simply allows local governments to impose an eviction moratorium — if they want to. In places that have imposed a moratorium, renters would have to demonstrate financial harm from the coronavirus crisis to avoid eviction. 

The Trump administration announced a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for federally backed mortgages on single-family homes. That would not apply to the vast majority of renters. 

Issue 4: Rents and home prices may dip, but that’s not necessarily good news 

Economists are saying the country is likely already in recession, and only the depth and breadth of a downturn are uncertain at this point. The worst-case scenarios — 20% unemployment, widespread layoffs over a prolonged period — are terrifying. Early indications are that jobless claims are reaching record levels already. 

In most recessions, home prices and rents decline alongside falling incomes and wages. If a COVID-19-induced downturn is brief and the economy rebounds like President Trump has predicted, rents and home prices might only dip temporarily. But the possibility of a prolonged drop in housing costs is real. 

Some might see a paradoxical benefit for Californians. Wasn’t the root of the “housing crisis” the fact that rents were too damn high? If housing prices drop, won’t more people be able to buy a house?  

Not really. 

A rapid decline in rents and home values might be beneficial to Californians who can keep steady incomes and stable jobs. But for lower-income earners, especially in the service sector, rents will not drop as fast as their incomes. The state will be more unaffordable, not less. 

Issue 5: If momentum for new home building dries up, trouble lies ahead

If California does enter a prolonged recession, its political leaders may want to look back to the 2010’s for a lesson in what policymakers shouldn’t do. 

While the rest of the economy picked up steam after the Great Recession, homebuilding did not — particularly in places like the Bay Area, which saw an explosion in high-wage jobs. Meanwhile, the state only incrementally replaced funding for government-subsidized low-income housing programs it had slashed during the downturn. 

The result? The housing crisis we were living in before COVID-19 hit: sky-high rents, declining homeownership, widespread gentrification and displacement and rising homelessness. 

Galante, the former HUD official, fears that policymakers may make the same mistakes, just as things like affordable housing funding and zoning reform were finally at the top of the agenda. 

“I think we need to be preparing and thinking about that recovery today, and part of that means doing the hard things,” she said. 

Those hard things? Spending more on low-income housing even if state coffers start to bleed, and reducing the regulations developers face when trying to build. 

Matt Levin is the data and housing writer for CALmatters. His work entails distilling complex policy topics into easily digestible charts.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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Homeless

Can Legislation Solve CA Homelessness Crisis?

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California can’t solve homelessness without more housing. This legislation will be key

by Jim Beall, CalMatters

On any given day, as many as 150,000 Californians are homeless, struggling to exist without the most fundamental of necessities: shelter. 

At the same time, millions of lower-income and middle-class families are struggling to afford a roof over their heads and are just one paycheck or one emergency away from being out of a home.

That’s why I’ve authored Senate Bill 5, which would create the Affordable Housing and Community Development Program. It would be a new, state-backed program that would provide cities and counties the resources they need to help fund the construction of affordable housing, including rental housing, available to very low, low and moderate-income families. This bill would stimulate housing for people particularly vulnerable to homelessness.

Homelessness and housing affordability are complex problems that will not be solved easily, quickly or with a silver bullet. 

Making a dent in this crisis will take cooperation between local and state governments, both playing a role along with non-profits and the private sector so we can begin to address the enormous gap of affordable housing for those most in need.

One major issue is that there is not nearly enough affordable rental housing available to low- and very- low income households. More than 2.2 million extremely low-income and very low-income renter households are competing for only 664,000 affordable rental homes. That leaves more than 1.5 million of California’s lowest-income families without access to housing. Many of these families are on the brink of homelessness.

There also is a dearth of affordable housing for working families.

We need more supply of both. To build it, we need funding.

SB 5 would tap into California’s resources and create a state-local partnership to provide ongoing and sustainable funding to local governments to increase the stock of affordable housing.

Beginning in 2021, SB 5 would provide $200 million annually to local governments. That amount could grow annually and be capped at $2 billion annually.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Legislature are to be commended for providing hundreds of millions of dollars in this year’s state budget to help local governments plan for more housing, build emergency shelters and provide services for the homeless. 

While this one-time infusion of money is important, our homeless and affordable housing crises aren’t a one-year problem. We need a dedicated program and ongoing funding to help attack these problems over the long-term.

Lawmakers and then-Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated a key source of ongoing funding available to local governments to build affordable housing when they eliminated the redevelopment program in 2011. 

That said, SB 5 is not redevelopment. We’ve learned from the past mistakes and abuses of that program to structure a more accountable financing tool that will be hyper-focused on housing, particularly affordable housing, and the necessary supportive infrastructure.

SB 5 contains strong accountability provisions. 

The legislation would create the Affordable Housing and Community Development Investment Committee, a statewide oversight body that would ensure state priorities are met and empowered to approve or reject all projects proposed by local governments. 

Additionally, cities and counties would submit annual reports that would be reviewed by the Legislature. SB 5 would create an annual cap on funds available, and the Legislature could suspend funding during fiscal downturns. Lastly, SB 5 would ensure funding for schools and community colleges are not impacted.

We need bold solutions to begin to reverse course on the epidemic of homelessness and our lack of affordable housing. We need the state to step in as a partner with the hundreds of local communities struggling to provide affordable housing. That’s why we need Senate Bill 5

_____________________

Sen. Jim Beall is a Democrat from San Jose, representing Senate District 15, Senator.Beall@senate.ca.gov. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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