Why Housing Advocates Are Sour on California’s Proposition 1

Will California's Proposition 1 help address homelessness or make it worse

Credit Image: © Michael Ho Wai Lee/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire

California’s Proposition 1, aimed at addressing homelessness by funding mental health care and supportive housing, is facing criticism from housing advocates who argue it falls short of addressing root causes. Despite its approval of a $6.4 billion bond, concerns linger about its impact on mental health services funding and its focus on addiction rather than affordable housing.

Housing advocates are speaking out against California’s Proposition 1 because they say it won’t go far enough to address homelessness.

The proposition, also known as the Behavioral Health Services Program and Bond Measure, approved a $6.4 billion bond to build mental health care and drug and alcohol treatment facilities across the state. It also gives roughly $2 billion to local governments to convert hotels into supportive housing units and changes how California funds its mental health services going forward.

Overall, the bond could support the construction of up to 4,350 new supportive housing units for people experiencing homelessness, with roughly half of them being set aside for military veterans. But opponents of the measure, like the group Californians Against Prop. 1, say the ballot initiative doesn’t go far enough to address the root causes of homelessness.

“We tried hard to get the word out about the damage this measure will cause. It does not just ‘reform’ the mental health system; it reduces funding for mental health services by redirecting $1 billion per year,” Californians Against Prop. 1 said in a statement conceding the initiative is likely to pass.

California’s Prop. 1 passed at a time when politicians ranging from Gov. Gavin Newsom to local mayors and county commissioners are increasingly using rhetoric implying that mental health issues are the root cause of homelessness.

Newsom has said Prop. 1 could solve both California’s homelessness and opioid epidemics, a phrasing that draws a false equivalency between the issues. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has also pushed to include sobriety requirements in new supportive housing developments and has tried to take away welfare benefits from people who suffer from substance abuse challenges.

Addiction Is Not a Root Cause of Homelessness

Invisible People’s What America Believes About Homelessness report found that 74% of Americans believe that drug or alcohol addiction is a root cause of homelessness. However, multiple studies have found that the actual root cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing and how difficult cities have made it to build new homes.

This shift in rhetoric among California’s politicians follows multiple years of efforts to build more affordable housing in California, all of which seemed to have come up short. For instance, Newsom signed a legislative package that updated the state’s Housing Elements law to require cities to identify ways to build more affordable housing. But the law has so far resulted in a series of lawsuits from cities like Huntington Beach and Fullerton.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2024 The Gap report shows there are only 24 affordable homes available for every 100 extremely low-income earners in California, which are defined as people earning less than 30% of their area’s median income. The state also has a deficit of nearly 1 million affordable homes for this income group, according to the report.

The ballot measure has already caused some friction in the state.

Newsom announced on March 15 that he was postponing his annual State of the State address to wait for the ballot measure’s final tally, which suggests that it is a key policy win that Newsom wants to focus on. 

Newsom’s federal PAC, Campaign for Democracy, has also begun reaching out to volunteers to help people cure any rejected ballots, Politico reported. Steven Maviglio, a Sacramento-based Democratic consultant, told Politico that the move was “highly unusual” for a statewide measure.

The proposition also seems to have irked city officials in Newport Beach. The city council voted to leave the California League of Cities, an advocacy group that informs municipalities of statewide legislative changes after the group supported Prop. 1. Newport Beach officials said the law would require them to further increase the supply of mental health and substance abuse treatment beds when they already have a surplus.

“It’s just unfathomable to me that when CalCities knew this was going to be harmful to a city like ours, they stood up and said we’re going to support it,” Newport Mayor Will O’Neill said. “I just can’t support sending more taxpayer dollars to an organization that hurt us so badly.”

How You Can Help

We are engaged in a critical battle against misinformation and the criminalization of homelessness. Across the nation, these laws are quietly advancing through legislative committees, propelled by secret votes, corporate funding, out-of-state lobbyists, and conservative think tanks like the Cicero Institute.

Your support is our most potent weapon against this orchestrated effort. The consequences of these laws are dire:

  • The withholding of funds for essential homeless services.
  • The perpetuation of a heart-wrenching homeless-to-prison pipeline.
  • The redirection of funds meant for affordable housing.
  • Penalties for governments refusing to enforce these harmful policies.

At this pivotal moment, we must make the truth louder than ever. Tell your representatives you support revamping how your city addresses homelessness. Handcuffs do not get anyone closer to stable housing. Instead, we must focus on compassionate solutions, the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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