San Francisco magazine is proud to be a participant in the fourth annual SF Homeless Project headed by the San Francisco Chronicle. We asked Assemblyman Phil Ting about his efforts to address this epidemic and his thoughts on the causes and possible solutions.
As Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, what have you been able to do and/or work on to alleviate this growing problem?
Addressing our homeless crisis has been one of my top budget priorities these last few years. Our FY 2019-20 Budget makes a historic $1 billion investment to tackle homelessness, including $650 million in emergency aid for cities and counties to build shelters and permanent supportive housing, fund rapid rehousing programs and more. Allocation of funding will be based on the pending 2019 federal point-in-time homeless count, with San Francisco estimated to receive nearly $40 million. This builds upon our work from last year’s budget, which provided $500 million to local governments for homeless supportive services. San Francisco’s $27.6 million allocation has gone towards both adult and youth navigation centers and rapid rehousing projects, including the city’s newest proposed navigation center at 1925 Evans. Other major programs funded in recent budgets include rental housing payment assistance through CalWORKS and student rapid rehousing through California Community Colleges, CSU, and UC to prevent homelessness in the first place.
What is your opinion on the new navigation center and how are you working with the mayor's office on it?
I have been supportive of navigation centers, including the proposed Embarcadero Navigation Center. I commend the leadership of Mayor Breed, Supervisor Haney, and others who helped push the Embarcadero site through. I am proud to have authored legislation, AB 932, which allows cities that have declared a shelter crisis to streamline construction of homeless shelters. San Francisco took advantage of this law and declared a shelter crisis earlier this year, shaving months off the approval timeline for the Embarcadero Navigation Center. We must build more shelters, faster, to help our homeless population find safety off the streets.
What do you think is the core issue that needs to be addressed before tackling the whole homeless issue in SF?
The root causes of homelessness in San Francisco are our affordability crisis and the lack of housing supply, as well as the need for a more robust mental health system. As Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I’ve led efforts to expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit, a proven anti-poverty program, and increase access to universal healthcare coverage in order to help alleviate cost pressures on working families. I am also working on legislation to streamline construction of Accessory Dwelling Units, one of the cheapest and fastest ways to add new housing stock, along with legislation to prioritize construction of affordable housing projects on local surplus land. I have also joined Supervisors Haney and Ronen in their efforts to create SFMental Health, a universal mental health and substance abuse program.
How is the high cost of living in the city further impacting this epidemic?
There is no question that the high cost of living has contributed to homelessness in San Francisco. A June 2019 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition reveals that a worker must earn $61 an hour ($127,000 a year) to afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the city – when minimum wage is a little over $15 an hour. However, cities with much lower living costs, such as those in the Central Valley, are also experiencing surging homelessness rates. While our high cost of living is definitely an issue, we must address income inequality across California to truly confront this epidemic.
What plans do you have in 2020 and beyond to address the issue?
I am committed to continuing the work of our Assembly Budget Committee to prioritize investments in homelessness and affordable housing programs, as well as in education, healthcare, and social services to provide Californians with the tools they need to thrive. I will also continue to introduce and support legislation that addresses income inequality, ensures more housing gets built, and guarantees quality mental healthcare for all.
Photography by: © PJ Heller/ZUMAPRESS.com