(NewsNation) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is withholding money to combat homelessness unless local mayors come up with better plans.
The homeless population in California increased by around 22,000 during the pandemic. Newsom said local authorities would have to come up with better plans to combat homelessness to get their share of a special $1 billion grant to combat the problem.
Newsom announced two weeks ago that he would withhold $1 billion in spending until cities and counties come up with stronger plans, calling the plans put forward “simply unacceptable” as they would collectively reduce the state’s homeless population by just 2%. for the next four years.
California’s homeless population is estimated to be around 161,000, though that number is likely too low. Homelessness is calculated using what is called a point in time, which requires volunteers to go out and count people. Those counts are often lower than reality.
California’s homeless crisis is one of the worst in the country. Of the top 10 cities with the largest homeless populations, six are in California: Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Ana.
Newsom’s efforts to combat homelessness have included things like turning motels into housing and setting up special courts for people with serious mental health problems.
Not all mayors were happy with Newsom’s demands.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who joined virtually, said there were too many people and not enough space for “frank and constructive dialogue.” He and other mayors were told several days ago that Newsom planned to release the money if they came up with new plans.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed said “creating more obstacles for local governments to overcome without a clear explanation of what is required.”
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti criticized Newsom for bogging down the process with politics.
“Californians deserve a government that works together to make this crisis urgent. Lives are at stake and we cannot afford to have this work become mired in more politics and red tape,” he said.
Generally speaking, the governor seemed to be on a different page from the state housing department, which worked with San Jose and other cities on their original plans, said Liccardo, also a Democrat.
“There seem to be conflicting notions about what is required,” he said.
The state has already distributed $1.5 billion in funding, and applications for the next round are due in a few days.
Newsom will not release that money unless those governments commit to “be more aggressive across the board,” said Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. Plans expire in two weeks.
Applicants must also agree to implement as many best practices as possible, including more efficient methods for people to access housing and speeding up the construction of more housing for poor and extremely poor households.
The Newsom administration is also cracking down on California cities and counties that are resistant to building more housing, including affordable housing, with many saying they don’t want the congestion and neighborhood changes that come with more people.
Associated Press contributed to this report.