Opinion

Concerned about California’s housing crisis? In November, you can make a difference

A homeless man sits at his tent along Interstate 110 near downtown Los Angeles in May.
A homeless man sits at his tent along Interstate 110 near downtown Los Angeles in May. AP

Tonight, more than 130,000 Californians will go to sleep homeless. That’s enough to fill Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park and Petco Park.

The figure alone is a tragedy, but it’s just the tip of a much larger housing crisis facing our state. For every one of our neighbors living on the street, 10 more are one missed paycheck, accident or illness away from homelessness.

 
Opinion

The biggest culprit is rising housing costs. From 2000 to 2014, median rent in California increased by more than one-third, while real incomes for renters fell by 7 percent. Today, 1.5 million Californians spend more than half their income on housing. This crisis threatens not just low-income families but our entire economy, driving businesses to relocate to states in which their employees can afford to live.

You can’t end a famine without food, and you can’t end a housing crisis without building more housing. This November, California voters will have the opportunity to make a difference and ensure that California remains a place where working families can thrive and contribute to our shared prosperity.

Propositions 1 and 2 would be long-term investments to increase housing for those who need it most. The first would authorize $4 billion in bonds to build affordable housing for low-income residents and provide home loans for California veterans, while the second would allow the use of existing mental health funding to build supportive housing for homeless people suffering from mental illness.

At the California Community Foundation, we’ve spent decades investing in ending homelessness and expanding the supply of affordable housing in Los Angeles County. The approaches outlined in these propositions work. Studies show that supportive housing – which combines affordable housing with case management, job training and physical and mental health services – can reduce taxpayer costs for dealing with homelessness by as much as 75 percent.

Whatever voters decide on Nov. 6, there is still much each of us can do to make housing more affordable. The vast majority of development decisions take place at the local level. By urging our city and county officials to streamline the development process, remove arbitrary zoning roadblocks and embrace affordable and supportive housing in our own backyards, we can make a tremendous difference in the supply of housing in our own communities.

If Proposition 10 passes, which would move decision-making on rent control laws from the state to the local level, your voice will be even more important in setting the housing policies that shape your community.

Most importantly, you can talk to your neighbors. Amid the demands of work and family, all of us struggle to participate in the process and get the information needed to make informed choices. Sharing your knowledge, hopes and concerns about the housing crisis helps everyone understand what’s at stake and what we can do about it.

At the California Community Foundation, we’ve funded organizations such as L.A. Voice, which works to engage communities of faith, and ACCE, which helps residents talk to neighbors to protect, preserve and produce affordable housing in Los Angeles.

There is no silver bullet for California’s out-of-control housing prices. For decades, we watched our population grow while the pool of rental housing stagnated. Bringing costs back into line and making our state welcoming to working families will require patience, commitment and united action across the public and private sectors.

On Nov. 6, you and millions of other Californians have an opportunity to make a lasting impact on our housing crisis. Your vote holds the key to ensuring that California remains a place that anyone with a dream can call home.

Antonia Hernandez is president and CEO of the California Community Foundation and a participant in The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. She can be contacted at ahernandez@calfund.org. Find the series (with more Monday on housing) at sacbee.com/influencers.

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