California Bill to Hold Cities Accountable for Homelessness Passes Key Vote

  • AB 816, a bill introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu, would require state and local governments to develop plans to cut homelessness by 90%, and create a legal obligation to execute those plans

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed $12 billion in new spending on homelessness over the next five years, but a state audit this year found widespread flaws in the state's existing homelessness effort

  • The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voiced support for Chiu's bill this week

A proposal by California State Assemblymember David Chiu that would require cities to dramatically cut homelessness is set to advance in the state legislature.


The bill, AB 816, would compel state and local governments to develop a plan to reduce homelessness by 90% by 2029, and create a Housing and Homelessness Inspector General position at the state level that could bring legal action against governments that fail to execute those plans. California's homeless population is estimated at about 160,000, and the number of unsheltered people surged in many jurisdictions, including San Francisco, during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“State and local governments need to be rowing in the same direction toward the same goal if we are ever to see a significant reduction in homelessness,” said Chiu in April. The bill, which cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday, would also mandate a statewide analysis of homelessness spending.


In a report released earlier this year, California's lead auditor Elaine Howle lambasted the state's "disjointed" response to homelessness. There is currently no centralized system for tracking and evaluating service providers, and some Continuums of Carethe local agencies that administer homelessness servicesdo not employ best practices, the report found.


There appears to be some consensus that, at minimum, governments must more closely track the administration of homelessness services. At a meeting this week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support Chiu's bill, which will be heard again on the Assembly floor in the coming weeks.


State and local governments are set to deploy an unprecedented level of funding intended to address homelessness.


California Governor Gavin Newsom said last week that the state, flush with cash in the upcoming budget cycle, will spend $12 billion over the next five to get more homeless individuals and families into housing. That includes a goal of "functionally [ending] family homelessness," Newsom said.


San Francisco is expected to receive millions in federal funds designated for homelessness and housing, including $18.7 million in direct assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Mayor London Breed said will be used to "build up our homelessness prevention efforts and create more permanent supportive housing."


The City is also receiving 887 emergency housing vouchers as part of the federal American Rescue Plan, a massive COVID relief package signed into law earlier this year. Those vouchers are allocated to San Francisco's Housing Authority, and will be used to house approximately 1,000 people as part of Breed's goal of creating 6,000 new housing or shelter placements within by July 2022.


Under Breed's plan, the City aims to purchase or lease 1,500 new units of permanent supportive housing, boost capacity in shelters and alternative housing sites, and boost preventative measures.


The City now maintains a dashboard displaying progress in Breed's homelessness plan.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup
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