More housing for the homeless is coming to a city near you – if you live in Santa Monica. City officials recently approved a $123 million, 122-unit homeless housing project, and it comes just a few days after state auditors accused California of funding similar projects without tracking the effectiveness of those programs. Here’s what happened!

California Facing Homelessness Problem

It’s no secret that California is facing one of the most dire homelessness problems in the United States. Recent statistics suggest that there are more than 180,000 homeless people in The Golden State, which accounts for roughly 28% of the nation’s homeless population.

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According to the City of Santa Monica, an estimated 926 homeless people lived in the city, which represented an increase of 15% between 2023 and 2022. For reference, Santa Monica is home to roughly 90,000 people.

CA Spends More Than $24 Billion Over 5 Years

If there’s one thing California Gov. Gavin Newsom doesn’t mind doing, it’s spending money. And one of the many initiatives to receive a lot of funding from him over the past few years is the homelessness crisis – something he says he’s dedicated to solving.

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The money speaks for itself. Between 2018 and 2023, California spent more than $24 billion on homeless housing programs. With that type of commitment, many people would expect to see some sort of progress – but that’s the problem.

State Auditor Blasts CA For Not Tracking Effectiveness

The problem is that the state of California hasn’t been tracking the effectiveness of those homeless housing programs. So, while they spent more than $24 billion over a five-year period, the state has no way of knowing whether or not that $24 billion made a difference.

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That’s exactly what state auditors argued in a new audit report, published on April 9 – and now Newsom is getting grilled for it. One Republican leader called it ‘standard’ for Newsom to ‘make a splashy announcement, waste a bunch of taxpayer money, and completely fail to deliver.’

New $123 Million Housing Project Approved In Santa Monica

In the midst of all that, Santa Monica city council officials recently announced a massive new homeless housing program that’ll cost roughly $123 million. For a building with 122 units, that means each unit is costing taxpayers roughly $1 million.

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It’s one of the first projects announced since the state auditors released their report. There were two design concepts introduced to the city council, but only one could be approved. Here’s a brief overview of what made each concept unique:

Design Concept #1: The One That Got Approved

The first design concept consisted of 122 apartments, 50 of which were Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) apartments. In total, there were 44 studio apartments, 16 one-bedroom apartments, 31 two-bedroom apartments, and 31 three-bedroom apartments.

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The building is five stories tall, with the apartments located above commercial retail and two levels of underground parking with 116 parking spaces (60 residential, 56 commercial). The entire cost of the project is $123,091,277 – but that could be optimistic.

Design Concept #2: The One That Got Rejected

The second design concept, which didn’t get approved, consisted of 196 apartments – 50 of which were PSH apartments. It includes 70 studio apartments, 24 one-bedroom apartments, 50 two-bedroom apartments, and 52 three-bedroom apartments.

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The building is three stories higher (eight stories) than the first design and had an extra level of underground parking – the three levels included 179 parking spaces. The project would’ve cost an estimated $207,991,909 – roughly $85 million more than the other design.

Mayor Phil Brock Looking Forward To Next Steps

Santa Monica Mayor Phil Brock touted his city’s efforts to satisfy the requirements listed under the ‘housing elements law,’ which requires that all local governments adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community.

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“Moving forward in bringing affordable and permanent supportive housing to city-owned land is a key step in our strategy to fulfill our Housing Element requirements,” Brock said. “I look forward to the next steps and ultimately seeing families move into these new homes and thrive.”

City Spokesperson Says Efforts Will Continue

In a press release, a city spokesperson acknowledged the homelessness crisis that Santa Monica – and other cities in California – are currently facing and vowed to continue to live up to the requirements listed out in the ‘housing elements law.’

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“Santa Monica has dedicated several city-owned sites for affordable projects, a key strategy to lower costs to develop this needed housing and meet the mandates in the council-approved Housing Element,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

Newsom’s $200 Million Encampment Resolution Fund

On April 18, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced $192 million in new state funds to help move people out of encampments and into housing. The money is coming out of the Encampment Resolution Fund (ERF) grants and is being administered by the California Interagency Council on Homelessness (Cal ICH).

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“These grants will support 20 projects in 17 California communities,” his office wrote in a press release. Los Angeles County (where Santa Monica is located) is due to receive more than $51 million, while Marin County will receive the second-most at $18.2 million.

Wants To Clean Sidewalks In A Compassionate Way

Gov. Newsom claims that the new grants are an effort to clean up the encampments on the side of the street and ‘taking the sidewalks back.’ But, in cleaning them up permanently, he’s vowing not to push problems ‘from one part of town’ to the next.

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“People want to see these tents and encampments removed, but they want to see them removed in a compassionate and thoughtful way,” Newsom said. “And we agree. So, this is a program that I think aligns with that and certainly a program that builds on success.”

Supreme Court Weighs Bans On Sleeping In Public

California’s neighbor to the north – Grants Pass, Oregon – has been battling a homelessness crisis of its own. In fact, the state went as far as banning camping or sleeping on public property or in city parks – and violators could face a $295 fine or up to 20 days in jail. 

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The ban caused quite a bit of controversy – so much that it made its way all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s unclear if the justices will side with its homeless residents, but a decision is expected to be released sometime in June or July 2024.

Protecting Against Cruel And Unusual Punishment

Between 2013 and 2018, the town issued more than 500 citations related to Grant Pass’s sleeping ban, but it wasn’t until 2018 that several homeless people sued the town. They argued that the ban violates the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution.

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The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, but also prohibits “excessive fines” and bail. Many people are saying that sleeping is a basic necessity that we can’t bargain with – and if they don’t have affordable housing, what else are they supposed to do?