California bill attempts to tackle housing crisis through $2 billion allocation

Nancy Skinner 2016 CA Senate Lake Merritt Oakland
Nancy Skinner's Office/Courtesy

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California State Sens. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Jim Beall, D-San Jose, proposed a new bill that would allocate $2 billion in one-time funding to tackle the state’s housing crisis.

On Wednesday, Beall and Skinner unveiled SB 912, which would allocate $2 billion in general funds for affordable housing and combating homelessness. The bill would direct funding to cities and counties to assist homeless residents and families with low and moderate incomes.

Recent budget cuts in affordable housing credits make SB 912 an important step to prevent more Californians from becoming homeless, according to a press release from Beall’s office.

Equipping Berkeley with the financial resources to address homelessness and affordable housing has the potential to help Berkeley residents who struggle to meet the city’s rising living costs, according to City Councilmember Linda Maio.

Berkeley is running out of public land to use for affordable housing, which is expensive to build, Maio said.

“Especially in my council district, I have a huge number of homeless encampments and very little ability to help people,” Maio said. “We’re doing the best we can in a small city within an impacted area.”

But these issues remain a high priority for the city and students alike, and SB 912 could provide some much-needed assistance, according to Dominick Williams,  legislative director in the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President.

SB 912 could benefit UC Berkeley students, as many experience housing insecurity, according to Williams. In a housing survey by the Office of Planning & Analysis from fall 2017, 10 percent of respondents self-identified as having experienced homelessness since arriving on campus.

“You see a lot of folks who are housing insecure. These are familiar faces, despite Berkeley’s conviction to address the housing and homeless crisis,” Williams said. “You have homeless folks who are holding store doors open for us … and they generally sleep on the streets at night, despite our desire to assist them.”

As critical as SB 912 funding is, it’s still a “drop in the bucket,” according to Matthew Lewis, vice chair and basic needs officer for the UC Student Association, or UCSA. Lewis said the state and federal government should invest more to address housing affordability and homelessness, especially for students.

Lewis, who sits on Berkeley’s Housing Advisory Commission, noted the importance of the city’s investments in housing affordability but said the “federal government has a significant role to play in this” and yet has been “withdrawing for decades.”

“Even if it was $2 billion every year, it wouldn’t be enough,” Lewis said. “The state needs to put in massively more investment per year — the state and the federal government.”

Additionally, Lewis added that a percentage of SB 912’s allocation should go specifically to funding student housing.

“We as Californians don’t want other Californians to be homeless,” Williams said. “This bill puts our money where our mouth is.”

Contact Ella Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @EllaSmithCA.