Among the several social issues that exist in the state of California, homelessness and housing take precedence. California is the leading state in America having the highest total number of people facing homelessness. Homelessness has grown to become both a social and state problem that affects up to 161,548 residents of the state according to a survey conducted by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. In essence, this state problem involves a person being in a position of not having a home.
State of homelessness
In California, the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has highlighted subpopulation of individuals who are facing this problem. They include veterans, family households, unaccompanied young adults aged between 18 and 24, and those facing chronic homelessness (United States Interagency Council on Homelessness). Chronic homeless people are those that have experienced homelessness for at least a year and as a matter of fact, they hold the highest percentage of the subpopulation. Within this data, the Department of Education was also able to make prominent the figures that represented the number of public school students who were facing homelessness. By 2019, the number stood at 271, 528 students (United States Interagency Council on Homelessness). With such figures growing annually, homelessness becomes a problem that if not addressed as soon as possible may cripple the state administration.
Personal opinion and position
The data that illustrates the situation of homelessness in California is disheartening if not utterly disturbing. The information draws the picture of a good number of residents who lack a permanent place to call home. The fact that it incorporates all the social classes that exists in the society highlights how the issue is a chronic problem facing one of the largest States in America. Being a problem that can be traced back to the 19th century, it becomes questionable that the governing state has not been able to come up with an efficient and reliable solution to the problem. California is considered a Golden state because of its rapidly growing economy. Despite its vast number of opportunities that are attracting even more people to the state, the housing department has remained retrogressive when it comes to accommodating the growing population. I believe that the governing body can do more, in terms of legislation to at least elevate the homeless people of California from their misfortunes.
Factors contributing to homelessness
Scarce and expensive housing
The rapidly developing economy of California is creating a situation where the housing system is becoming too expensive for the low income earners of the state to afford, rendering them homeless. A ripple effect described by Rosalsky paints the right picture. That as the economy develops and the standards of living rise, one’s income may fail to keep up with the rising cost of rent (Rosalsky). As a result, an individual ends up spending more than a third of their income on rent alone.
The ripple effect in the housing market comes to be as the high income earners turn to houses that have been rented out by middle income earners to sustain themselves. Consequently, the middle income earners are also forced to now rent houses that were previously affordable to the low income earners (Rosalsky). The lowest class group are left scrambling and eventually end up homeless. According to Rukmana (293), the rareness of affordable housing affects the low income earners first, then the mentally challenged and those facing chronic drug abuse are drugged into it. It is probably the case because drug abusers and the mentally ill make a percentage of those working low income jobs.
Deinstitutionalization of mental institutions and increased drug abuse
On top of that, the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill patients aggravated the homelessness situation to levels that now concerned even the human rights activists. As stated before, the homelessness crisis can be traced back to the 19th century with factors such as unemployment and decreased federal assistance definition the problem then (Rosalsky). With time, other elements including the one addressed above became the major determining factors that contributed to the state crisis. Around the 1980s, the government of California decided to cut taxes and consequently exenterate programs like the state funded mental institutions (Rukmana 292). They also reduced public expenditure on welfare, leaving a massive group of mentally challenged people and other people with various difficulties stranded with no place to go (Rukmana 292). At the beginning of this cut off, these people could only afford houses within the inner city neighborhoods because they were low rent.
As time passed by and the housing market prices inflated, even those houses became too expensive for them to afford. This resulted to them moving to state shelters which as a result of the defunding could not take many of them. Alowaimer (1) adds people suffering from chronic drug abuse into the mix. Research has gone ahead to prove that drug abuse is a prevalent activity among most homeless people with only 9% of them not participating in either alcohol drinking or the use of other intoxicating drugs (Alowaimer 2). With such high figures, it is only reasonable that drug and alcohol use would be correlated to homelessness.
Solutions to the homelessness crisis in California
Setting up affordable housing policies
Since it has been established that an acute shortage of affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness in the state of California, legislation that would intentionally target this problem becomes the only solution. Legislation makes it easier for both the state and local governments to create opportunities for affordable housing. It also removes the obstacles that would frustrate citizens who want to acquire housing. At the end of 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom had signed a total of 31 affordable housing bills and seven laws that were meant to hold the state accountable for providing a fair share of housing across economic classes (The Office of the Governor). The 31 bills also incorporated an additional 22 billion dollar input into housing and homeless investment that targeted to create up to 84,000 units of houses (The Office of the Governor). In addition to that, the legislation is set to remove barriers that frustrated construction efforts by investors.
One of the laws signed by the governor is meant to afford the state more power over the expenditure of local governments (ABC News). This will ensure that the budget created by the local governments favor the initiative of providing affordable housing. In addition to that, transparency when it comes to handling resources that are specifically meant to curb the homelessness crisis becomes essential (ABC News). Legislation can mandate the creation of oversight bodies that would keep both the local and federal governments in check when it comes to their commitment to solving the state problem. For the state of California, the California Interagency Council on Homelessness acts as this monitoring body (ABC News). One of their leading duties is to review and approve local governments’ plan on how they spend the money they are allocated to by the federal governments. Such efforts ensure proper management of resources that is meant for shelters and houses for the homeless.
Rental control and rental assistance
Rental control has been associated with a reduction in homelessness. This has been achieved by implementing a rent stabilizing policy. In essence, rental controls implies legislation that specifically limits rental rates in a country or state (Sturtevant 4). This can be done by limiting the amount of rent landlords can charge or directly preventing them from increasing it (rent stabilizing policy). As much as the rental control can help eradicate homelessness by making houses affordable to the low income earners, it has also been reported to have the opposite effect when the approach decides to set a rent ceiling (Sturtevant 4). Nonetheless, such can only happen when the housing market is facing an unprecedented low prices of houses and the region is considered a low-cost region. On the contrary, most of the cities in California especially those along the coastal areas are regarded as high-cost regions (Sturtevant 4). Analysts have admitted that rental control is a reliable mechanism that can aid States like California who are facing an increased housing affordability challenge because of the factors mentioned above (Sturtevant 4). Essentially, rental control makes houses affordable to all the subpopulations that face the crisis.
Housing assistance on the other hand refers to the aid that helps both renters and landlords make ends meet. Also known as federal rental assistance, this mechanism, if implemented, can help provide quality and affordable housing to low income earners (Schapiro et al. 1). This theory would perfectly apply in California because the state is basically in a situation where low income earners are perceiving an increased housing cost while their income remains stagnant or even plummeting (Schapiro et al. 1). As mentioned above, this has led to a shortage in affordable housing for the reason that the initial affordable houses are no longer inexpensive.
According to the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a person’s rental cost should make up just 30% of their total income. In a striking contradiction, low income earners in California are having to spend up to 50% of the total income on rent because of the increased prices (Schapiro et al. 1). One can see that this becomes a burden on households. Here is where rental assistance becomes essential. Coming in the form of voucher-based and/or project-based subsidies, this rental assistance make it possible for such groups of people to maintain their lifestyle (Schapiro et al. 2). Rental assistance works with the concept that restricting a tenant’s housing rent to approximately 30% would eliminate the burden expensive housing would weigh on the household.
Opposition to affordable housing projects
As the state government seeks to develop a housing market that would incorporate people from different social classes, visible opposition from neighborhoods and developers have been recorded. Their greatest argument is often that the construction of, say, affordable apartments in a place that is considered a high-cost region would lower property value (Leonard 4). Aside from that, they mention that the mingling of different social classes would result to an increased crime rate and would also result to increased traffic jams (Nzau and Trillo 2). At the basis of the arguments, it can be noted that they take two approaches, a social and economic approach. On the economic aspect of their opposition, it has been proven that the impact such projects have on property value is minimal if any.
Studies conducted by real estate companies have shown that low income housing projects have negligible effect on the prices of properties around them. In the regions where property value had actually plummeted, the study identified other non-low income credit projects that were responsible (Nzau and Trillo 2). The data showed increase in value of property in other cases while the majority of instances, the value remained the same. Based on this available research results, negative acuity conferred to affordable housing projects is not justified on the basis of declining property value.
Socially, the neighborhoods that oppose affordable housing projects are driven by fear, classism, and antidevelopment reactions (Nzau and Trillo 2). Such mindsets overlook the need for quality housing that other groups aside from them also need. As much as this social aspect is entirely psychological, proper community strategies need to be put in place to help neighborhoods adapt and see the affordable housing projects for the humanitarian efforts they are.
In summary, it is visible for the case of California that homelessness and housing is a state problem that if not handled immediately might result to an even bigger crisis than it currently is. The essay describes two major causes of homelessness: scarcity and expensive housing, as well as the deinstitutionalization of mental institutions. These two elements forced low income earners, drug addicts and the mentally challenged individuals into streets. Nonetheless, the state government can adopt measures that would work to reduce the adversity presented by the crisis. By coming up with the right affordable housing policies, implementing rent control and making use of rental assistance, state government can minimize homelessness.
ABC News. “California Governor Signs Laws Aimed At Homeless Crisis”. ABC News, 2021, Web.
Alowaimer, Osama. “Causes, Effects And Issues Of Homeless People”. Journal of Socialomics, vol 07, no. 03, 2018, pp. 1- 4. OMICS Publishing Group.
Leonard, Mark. Low-Income Households’ Perceived Obstacles and Reactions in Obtaining Affordable Housing. 2018. PhD dissertation. Walden University, Web.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine et al. Permanent Supportive Housing: Evaluating the Evidence for Improving Health Outcomes among People Experiencing Chronic Homelessness. 1st ed., National Academic Press, 2018, pp. 19-37.
Nzau, Bernard, and Claudia Trillo. “Affordable Housing Provision in Informal Settlements through Land Value Capture and Inclusionary Housing”. Sustainability, vol 12, no. 15, 2020, p. 5975. MDPI AG.
Rukmana, Deden. “The Causes Of Homelessness And The Characteristics Associated With High Risk Of Homelessness: A Review Of Intercity And Intracity Homelessness Data”. Housing Policy Debate, vol 30, no. 2, 2020, pp. 291-308. Informa UK Limited.
Schapiro, Rebecca, et al. “The Effects of Rental Assistance on Housing Stability, Quality, Autonomy, and Affordability.” Housing Policy Debate, 2021, pp. 1–17.
Sturtevant, Lisa. The Impacts of Rent Control: A Research Review and Synthesis. 1st ed., NMHC Research Foundation, 2018, pp. 1- 20.
United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Homeless in California Statistics 2019. Homeless Estimation by State | US Interagency Council on Homelessness”. Usich.Gov, 2022.