A “Marshall Plan” for homelessness

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Governor Gavin Newsom at KCRW Photo by Christopher Ho/KCRW

What did Gavin Newsom promise on the campaign trail in regards to building more housing?

During the campaign, Newsom said California officials should set a goal to help 3.5 million new homes get built by 2025 to stem the state’s housing problems.

That would require the state to nearly quadruple its annual production of homes.

To do that, Newsom talked about a number of policy changes, including funding home-building by expanding the low-income housing income tax credit program, revamping local tax incentives, and appointing a homelessness czar.

Homelessness was an issue on the campaign trail.

His Republican opponent John Cox visited Skid Row shortly before the election and referred to homeless encampments as “Newsomvilles” in a radio spot.

Newsom pledged to take on homelessness and even criticized Jerry Brown for not addressing the issue enough.

Before he was Jerry Brown’s lieutenant governor, Newsom was San Francisco supervisor and then mayor. What did he do to address housing and homelessness during that time?

A year before he launched his campaign for mayor, when he was a supervisor on the rise, he did something very controversial that outraged many activists.

He slashed the amount of welfare for single homeless adults and instead used the funds on shelters, housing and services. This program, called “Care Not Cash,” sought to stop welfare recipients from spending their monthly checks on heroin or alcohol. Newsom was criticized for being heartless to take money from the homeless

But while he was mayor he got thousands of units of supportive housing built.

He also spearheaded a city ordinance outlawing “aggressive panhandling,” and led the charge to make it a crime to sit or lie on sidewalks and other public spaces.

But homelessness remained prevalent in the city and continued to haunt his administration.

Newsom called for a “Marshall Plan” for affordable housing. What did he mean by that?

Well, the Marshall Plan was the massive American spending program to rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II.

It’s an interesting analogy because the Marshall Plan was partly self-interested: the United States wanted to build Europe into a strong trading partner and prevent the spread of Communism.

When it comes to providing affordable housing for the homeless, you have to convince the non-homeless that it’s in their interest to do so.

What might we see in the near future from Gov. Newsom?

He could throw his support behind State Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill to create more housing stock. Wiener is the most outspoken housing advocate in the Senate and for the second year in a row is trying to push through a bill that would force cities to allow more housing along transit lines. His first bill, the contested SB 827, failed largely because he wanted to override local zoning control.

Newsom could also look for lessons from the City of Minneapolis. Its city council last month took the radical step of voting to approve a plan to upzone its single family home districts, so as to increase housing options and affordability.

Newsom has also talked about giving tax credits to landlords who rent out units to homeless people, employers who hire the homeless and home builders who construct supportive housing.

He’s talked about bringing back some version of the community redevelopment agencies. This program took property tax revenues from blighted areas and reallocated them to help build low-income housing. Jerry Brown ended the program over concerns about abuse.

Newsom also wants to create a cabinet position to address homelessness, and to increase services at prisons to prevent inmates from becoming homeless upon release.

Activists are also calling on Newsom to rescind the expansion of CEQA, or California Environmental Quality Act. That’s the environmental statute that critics say is used by NIMBYs to halt housing development. They also want him to cap government fees on new housing while returning a fair share of property taxes to local governments.

Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to unveil his first budget proposal Thursday, containing specifics on his housing goals.