Gavin Newsom pushes homeless funding accountability, wants more low income housing in cities

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is renewing his call for accountability from cities and counties that receive homelessness funding after an audit showed the state is not adequately tracking the effectiveness of programs meant to help the unhoused.

Newsom on Thursday said the Department of Housing and Community Development will begin overseeing state homelessness grants, namely the Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention program, also known as HHAP. The program awards grants to local governments, agencies and organizations to spend somewhat flexibly on homelessness services.

Jurisdictions that fail to comply with state guidelines could ultimately face a lawsuit from the state’s Department of Justice -- mirroring actions that agency has taken to enforce affordable housing laws.

Newsom touted Attorney General Rob Bonta’s success at taking legal action against cities like Elk Grove and Huntington Beach over their resistance to approving new housing developments, saying he wanted to see similar action on the homelessness front.

“What’s happening on the streets has to be a top priority,” Newsom said. “People have to see and feel the progress and the change and if they’re not … I am not interested in continuing the status quo.”

As the state’s homelessness crisis has grown, the governor has increasingly called for accountability from those receiving money to combat homelessness. More than 181,000 Californians experienced homelessness on a given night in 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Newsom in late 2022 said he was withholding $1 billion in HHAP funding for cities and counties because their plans for how they would use the money were not aggressive enough. The governor later released the funds, but has not dropped his desire to see better outcomes from the state’s investment.

A reimagined accountability unit will monitor the HHAP plans cities and counties submit and ensure there is regional cooperation between various groups.

When asked whether jurisdictions could lose state money if their homeless populations don’t decrease, Newsom’s response was vague.

“I’m not interested in funding failure any longer,” Newsom said. “So I’m going to speak for myself, just one guy that’s got three more appropriation cycles in front of him. I want to see results. Everybody wants to see results.”

Newsom said he could undertake some of the reorganization through executive actions.

Response to state audit

Newsom’s announcement came on the heels of a state audit that found California must do more to assess the cost-effectiveness of its homelessness programs.

He also laid out his new plans more than a month after the narrow passage of Proposition 1, which was championed by the governor and will inject $6.4 billion to mental health and addiction treatment facilities, particularly for those who are in crisis or experiencing chronic homelessness and for veteran housing.

The governor said he was not surprised by the findings of the audit, released April 9. Extending the housing accountability unit to homelessness is responsive to the audit’s findings, Newsom said.

The audit found California “lacks current information on the ongoing costs of its homelessness programs” because the state has not consistently tracked and evaluated the state’s efforts to combat homelessness.

The council “has also not aligned its action plan to end homelessness with its statutory goals to collect financial information and ensure accountability and results,” State Auditor Grant Parks wrote. “Thus, it lacks assurance that the actions it takes will effectively enable it to achieve those goals. Another significant gap in the state’s ability to assess programs’ effectiveness is that it does not have a consistent method for gathering information on the costs and outcomes for individual programs.”

Nine state agencies have collectively spent billions of dollars in the past five years on at least 30 programs focused on preventing and ending homelessness, with the California Interagency Council on Homelessness responsible for coordinating, developing, and evaluating these efforts, the audit reports.

Full court homelessness press

Newsom’s remarks capped a full-court press from the executive branch on homelessness and housing issues Thursday.

In a news conference earlier Thursday, in front of a new affordable housing development in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, Bonta stressed the need to build more low-income housing and hold cities accountable for addressing the state’s dire affordable housing shortage.

“You don’t need me to tell me the crisis we’re in when it comes to homelessness, when it comes to housing and unaffordability in the state of California,” Bonta said. “We’re in a full state of crisis, full state of emergency and when you’re in a crisis, when you’re in an emergency, it’s all hands on deck and all tools in the toolbox. It’s folks working together. It’s everyone doing their part, rowing in the same direction.”