California's homelessness crisis drives call to tap surplus at expense of reserves

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Mayors from California’s eleven largest cities and state lawmakers want to allocate $1.5 billion of the state’s $6.1 billion surplus to deal with the growing homeless crisis.

Assembly Bill 3171 was introduced by State Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco and State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, during a press conference Wednesday that included mayors from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Long Beach, Sacramento, Oakland, Bakersfield, Anaheim and Santa Ana.

Ting and Lara said they will champion the effort in their respective houses.

“Last year, I fought to get billions appropriated in our state budget to fight homelessness across California, but we have so much more work to do,” said Ting, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.

The number of homeless people in the state increased 13% in 2016 and nearly 14% in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

AB 3171 calls for one-time funds to be allocated to cities on a matching basis for homeless shelters, rent vouchers and permanent supportive housing.

State senators Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, also introduced on Wednesday Senate Bill 912 that would direct $2 billion out of the surplus to help cities and counties combat homelessness.

Both efforts want to use the $6.1 billion surplus, which Gov. Jerry Brown allocated in his budget for building up the state’s reserves and rainy day fund.

Brown signed 15 housing bills in July aimed at creating more affordable housing and decreasing homelessness. Those efforts included a $75 real estate transaction fee and a $4 billion housing bond that will be on the November ballot.

The group of mayors sent a letter to legislative leaders earlier this month, urging them to set aside part of the budget surplus to help boost services to homeless individuals.

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