Ten years after the end of redevelopment, homelessness has exploded

By Mike Madrid

Of all the disturbing societal trends that have been normalized over the past few years, it is homelessness that stands alone as the most morally outrageous and shameful.

The visible daily reminder of the collapse of one of the government’s most basic responsibilities is a blight on California and the policymakers who created the problem and simultaneously demonstrate complete incompetence in addressing it.

One in four homeless people in the nation lives on California’s streets, and most of California’s homelessness problem is the result of policy failures in Sacramento — that’s why no other state has anywhere near the problem that we do.

Next year will mark 10 years since the elimination of the most powerful tool cities had to house low-income residents. ‘Redevelopment’, as it is commonly known, allowed cities to designate areas in their communities for future development opportunities and keep a portion of sales tax revenue that would be generated by future projects.

 

Cities could then borrow against this revenue stream with the commitment to also set aside hundreds of millions of dollars a year to build affordable housing. For 60 years, California cities were revitalized using redevelopment — San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Pasadena, Oakland and many others all turned their communities around using this tool.

In 2012, facing a severe economic crisis, the millions of dollars being used by local communities became too enticing for Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats to ignore. Facing severe budget shortfalls, Brown had to make tough choices, many that pitted political allies against those who would be harmed the most by structural governmental changes.

Unfortunately, California joined Arizona as the only other state in the country to undercut the ability of cities to build affordable housing with this tool. The table was then set for a cascading effect that would have California become the state with the worst homelessness problem, housing stock shortage and affordability crisis in the country within the next decade.

This policy decision has been an unmitigated disaster. Four short years after the elimination of redevelopment, polling on homelessness topped the issues of concern in every one of the ‘Big 10’ cities in California.

A 2014 report from the U.S. federal governments’ Office of Development and Research at the Housing and Urban Development estimated that “…the removal of RDA’s as a source of funding for affordable housing development is expected to result in a statewide average annual loss of 4,500 to 6,500 new affordable units through the foreseeable future.”

Ten years later, we could have had upwards of 65,000 houses for low- and very low-income earners to address a homeless population of 150,000 people.

Let’s be clear: homelessness is a complex social issue that must address an array of human challenges from mental health and drug addiction to a rapidly changing economic reality. But there is no debate that the bulk of the problem requires a dramatic increase in housing supply for low-income people. There is also no debate the redevelopment agencies were the primary source of that housing in California and the loss of them has dealt an inhumane blow to the neediest in our society.

Homelessness was the result of a policy choice that our politicians made at a difficult time in our state’s history. But that also means it can be remedied during a time of surplus. California chose to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, but today they must survive — or not — on our streets. It’s not a matter of being able to fix this, the only question is will we?

This op-ed was featured in the Sacramento Bee


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