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Homeless Fixes Not Working in California


Some things new laws just can’t fix. You first must change the old laws. That’s turning out to be the case with the drive to build new housing to deal with homelessness.

Senate Bill 9 was passed in 2021 and is called the Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency Act, or HOME Act. Here’s the Senate’s own explanation:

[It] streamlines the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot. Any new housing created as a result of this bill must meet a specific list of qualifications that protects historic districts, preserves environmental quality and the look of communities, and prevents tenants from being displaced. This legislation will enable homeowners to create intergenerational wealth, and provide access to more rental and ownership options for working families who would otherwise be priced out of neighborhoods.

You can see the problem in the multiple aims of the bill, in particular “preserves environmental quality.” Too much red tape.

A new study released Jan. 18 by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley is by David Garcia and Muhammad Almeldin, titled “California’s HOME Act Turns One: Data and Insights from the First Year of Senate Bill 9.” Their summary:

One year in, we find that the impact of SB 9 has been limited so far. Some of the state’s largest cities reported that they have received just a handful of applications for either lot splits or new units, while other cities reported none.

For example, giant Los Angeles approved only 28 of 211 applications for SB 9 units. Some other cities’ approval rates:

  • Anaheim 0 of 2;
  • Berkeley 0 of 5;
  • Long Beach 0 of 1;
  • San Diego 0 of 7;
  • San Francisco 4 of 25;
  • San Jose 0 of 1.

When even liberal Berkeley can’t approve any HOME Act housing, there’s a problem. The authors come to this conclusion, concerning “accessory dwelling unit” laws:

Recent changes in ADU laws—including laws that limit impact fees, remove owner-occupancy requirements, and allow for larger units—have made it easier to build. Currently, however, SB 9 does not have this same flexibility. In fact, we found in a previous analysis that some cities are imposing additional requirements on SB 9 projects, including guidelines that are prohibited by state law for ADUs. As such, it may be more attractive for a homeowner to pursue an ADU rather than an SB 9 project.


SB 9 has the potential to help solve the state’s housing shortage, particularly by creating more units in single-family neighborhoods and providing entry-level homeownership opportunities, but only if the law’s promise is realized through implementation. It is still too early to say that SB 9 is not working. Limited uptake of the new law may be impacted by the capacity and staff constraints that many planning departments are experiencing, alongside rising interest rates, high inflation, and ongoing supply chain/construction disruptions.

It’s like the free-market economist Ludwig Mises said: Regulation begets more regulation. Each round of regulation causes more problems, which then must be “solved” by more regulation—and on and on.

City Objections

Meanwhile, there’s pushback against state housing mandates. Huntington Beach said it’s going to take the state to court over requirements to build thousands of more housing units. Said Councilman Casey McKeon, “This is fulfilling the last pillar of our contract with the Huntington Beach voters, and that is to unleash [city attorney] Michael Gates to push back against the state mandates. These 13,368 mandated units is outrageous, it’s not realistic. We have to fight this with every fiber of our being.”

Surf City’s population was 199,140, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. But estimates for 2021 show 196,652. That’s a loss of 2,488 in one year, or 1.2 percent.

Which also shows why rents have been declining throughout Southern California. One way to cut the cost of something is to expand supply. But the other way is to reduce demand. California’s problems, beginning with housing costs, are driving people away, providing a partial self-correction to the housing problem.

Real Solutions

There are real solutions to the homeless problem. First, the state needs to advance reform of the California Environmental Quality Act. Newsom and others long have advocated reform, but so far nothing has been done—except to carve out exemptions for sports stadiums for billionaire owners and millionaire players.

Second, Project Labor Agreements also need to be suspended for public-housing projects. These mandate high union wages even for non-union employees, generally doubling costs. As KTLA reported a year ago, “Los Angeles is spending up to $837,000 to house a single homeless person.”

Third, reform is needed of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act on mental illness. We don’t want to go back to the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” era of involuntarily incarcerating people in mental hospitals for minor problems, or as an alternative to jail. But now, it’s jails themselves that too often have become the replacement for mental hospitals. That and, of course, the streets littered with the homeless.

I wrote at length about these reforms in The Epoch Times a month ago.

Frankly, I don’t think anything is going to change. It’s what Newsom calls the California Way: Nothing gets fixed while the governor runs for president.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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