As California grapples with an unprecedented homelessness crisis, there has been much discussion about helping those currently on the streets, with far less focus on how we can prevent homelessness in the first place.
Yet prevention is clearly a key piece of the puzzle, particularly as the number of Californians slipping into homelessness each year continues to outpace local efforts to provide shelter. According to the 2019 homeless count, officials in Los Angeles County housed more than 21,000 people in 2018, yet homelessness still increased 12 percent countywide. If we’re serious about addressing this crisis, preventing homelessness must be at the top of our agenda.
With this goal in mind, state legislators moved forward last year on a variety of new laws to assist those most at risk. These included sweeping measures to protect tenants from large rent increases and to enhance legal protections and services for those facing eviction. We also allocated billions of dollars to support local initiatives, assist those struggling with mental illness or addiction, and increase the supply of affordable housing.
Despite these efforts, there is a real possibility that our homeless population will continue to grow, especially as California faces the imminent loss of thousands of units of affordable housing. According to the California Housing Partnership, nearly 35,000 subsidized affordable rental units in California are at risk of converting to market rate units as state and federal subsidies and deed restrictions expire over the next five years. Allowing these affordable units to suddenly disappear would have catastrophic consequences for tens of thousands of vulnerable Californians and severely setback efforts to address our homeless crisis.