San Francisco Chronicle
Newsom plans 1,200 tiny homes, focuses on encampments
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to install 1,200 tiny homes throughout the state and plans to reduce homelessness by 15% at an event in Sacramento on Thursday.
The tiny homes will be placed in four cities starting in the fall. They will be used to house people who have been living in homeless encampments, according to Newsom’s office. The California National Guard will help cities place the homes, and local governments will operate them once they are installed.
Two hundred will go to San Jose, 500 to Los Angeles, 350 to Sacramento and 150 to San Diego County. Newsom said the state plans to spend about $30 million on the tiny homes.
Jason Elliott, a top adviser to Newsom, said the funding will come from unspent money previously appropriated in the state budget for behavioral health programs.
The homes will serve only a sliver of the state’s homeless population, which recent counts estimate is more than 170,000.
“We need to focus with more energy and precision on encampments,” Newsom told reporters at the event, the first on the tour of California he’s doing in lieu of a traditional State of the State address. “People are dying on our watch.”
None of the homes will be in San Francisco, where a proposal to build a village of 70 tiny cabins on a blighted parking lot has stalled amid community opposition and high costs. The cabins would have cost about $100,000 per unit. Elsewhere in the city, other tiny home units have cost $33,000 per unit to set up.
Thursday’s event at Cal Expo, where the state fair is held, featured five different tiny home units that Newsom’s office said are being considered. The models on display were small boxes with windows and doors that included beds, desks and air conditioning units.
The vendors at the event included Pallet, a company Oakland has hired to set up tiny homes.
In Oakland, the city’s cabin program had mixed results, according to a recent city audit. Of the 1,100 people who lived in Oakland’s cabins between 2018 and 2021, less than a third moved into permanent housing and roughly half became homeless again.
Newsom said the four cities were chosen because they volunteered and because they were able to identify sites where they could place the units.
“We didn’t want people we had to coerce,” Newsom said. “They had sites, they were ready to go.”
If the tiny homes are successful, Newsom said he hopes to expand the program.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg called the tiny homes a “godsend.” Newsom’s interest in allowing the city to place at least some of the homes at Cal Expo, a state property, is a “breakthrough,” Steinberg said, because it’s such a challenge to find places for such projects to go.
In December, Newsom threatened to withhold $1 billion in homeless funding from local governments because he said the plans they submitted to reduce homelessness were not aggressive enough. He quickly relented and released the money after city leaders complained and agreed to more aggressive targets for reducing the number of people on their streets.
Before they made the changes Newsom requested, some regions’ plans would not have decreased the unsheltered population at all. For example, the Sacramento region would have seen a 71% increase in unsheltered homelessness under its plans by 2024, according to data from the Newsom administration.
Other area plans, like Marin’s, would have resulted in no decrease at all. San Francisco’s plans would have resulted in a 3% decrease.
Collectively, the plans local governments initially submitted would have decreased homelessness in California by only 2% in three years. The updated plans set a goal of reducing homelessness by 15%, according to Newsom. His administration has not made public individual governments’ updated plans.
County supervisors from across the state applauded the governor’s commitment to building the 1,200 tiny homes, and said the homeless funding from the state has been helpful, but added that the state needs to streamline and better organize its programs.
“Most current state and federal funding streams are complex and support a patchwork of programs administered by different governmental entities,” Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington said on a call with reporters. “This is definitely not the recipe for success. Local governments need sustained, ongoing state funding, paired with local flexibility and technical assistance to make progress.”
Assemblyman Josh Hoover, R-Folsom, noted that three years ago, Newsom devoted his entire State of the State address to homelessness. But California’s homeless population has increased since then, despite the state spending billions of dollars to get people off the streets.
“On homelessness, the governor has not delivered on his promises,” Hoover said.
Hoover said the governor’s policies focus on providing people with housing, but that he needs to focus more on treating mental illness and drug addiction.
Newsom will make additional announcements on topics including affordability and mental health through the weekend at different locations in California.