In February of 2018 the California Department of Housing and Community Development released a report outlining the state's dire need for legislative remedy to address high rent, lack of affordable housing, and resultant homelessness: Nearly 120,000 Californians were homeless in 2016, comprising nearly a quarter of the national homeless population, despite the state's share of only 12 percent of the population; and more than half of California's six million renter-households pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent, while over a quarter pay more than 50 percent. Compounding the problem, the state reported it needed to build 100,000 more new homes above the annual average to meet increased need for housing statewide.
Recognizing this need for more affordable housing, politicians and housing advocates have introduced a number of statewide and local ballot measures that seek to address these crises. But as these measures seeking to rectify the housing crisis and homelessness come to the ballot, many who would be best-served by them face an uphill battle in getting to the polls. There are legal protections for homeless voters in California, but structural issues can create obstacles to voting.
California makes it easier than other states, in many ways, to vote without a home: The state offers same-day voter registration, has no ID requirements, and allows homeless voters to register from P.O. boxes, homeless shelters, or even the bench or slice of sidewalk they sleep on. "As far as administrative obstacles, California is better than many parts of the country," says Jerry Jones, the public policy director of the Inner City Law Center. In support of the three statewide ballot measures, the center has worked to mobilize voters on Los Angeles' Skid Row, where a number of homeless service providers will double as polling locations.
But voting without a permanent address can be difficult. While a homeless person might register from one address, police sweeps can force them elsewhere, and stays in homeless shelters may be shorter than the time between registration and actually voting, according to Megan Hustings, the interim director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. (And that's assuming one knows she can use such an address in the first place; Hustings says many aren't aware of the ability to do so.)
San Francisco, for its part, narrowly passed a ballot measure in 2016 prohibiting tents on public sidewalks, and has swept homeless encampments there since. In Los Angeles, arrests of homeless people have increased by nearly a third between 2011 and 2016, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, and the top five charges were all for minor or non-violent offenses."Many people don't feel very supported by the community," says Hustings, "so there's a sense of disenfranchisement."
Below, a look at the different measures up for vote:
California Proposition 1, approved by both houses of the California legislature and signed onto the ballot by Governor Jerry Brown, would allocate $4 billion in state general-obligation bonds to housing-assistance programs for veterans, low-income households, and the homeless. Prop 1 has the support of both party's nominees for governor, as well as housing organizations across the state. (There are also no political action committees funding opposition to the ballot measure.) While the money allocated would not come from tax revenue, individual opponents argue interest on the bonds California sells to finance the allocation may have to be repaid with revenue generated from higher property taxes down the line.
California Proposition 2 would authorize the state to allocate $140 million annually, and up to $2 billion total, for the legislatures' No Place Like Home program, which pays for housing for those who are homeless and in need of mental-health services. While the legislature, which brought this measure to the ballot, can typically allocate tax revenue without a ballot proposition, Prop 2 falls to voters today because it's funding source would be revenue generated by a prior ballot measure: In 2004, a 54 percent majority in the state approved Proposition 63, a tax on the wealthiest 0.1 percent of Californians to raise revenue for for mental-health services.
Prop 2 has garnered support from mental-health advocacy organizations across the state, as well as affordable housing advocates. While no political action committees have funded opposition to the measure, individual opponents, like the Contra Costa County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, argue that funding for the mentally ill was already approved in Prop 63, and the measure's reallocation of funds for housing would come at the expense of treatment.
California Proposition 10, whose supporters collected enough signatures to force it onto the ballot, would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prevented cities from establishing rent control on units built after 1995. It's repeal would thereby allow local governments to adopt rent-control measures, potentially preventing landlords from raising rents to market-rate value when tenants leave. While the ballot measure itself won't implement any rent-control ordinances, it would free city governments to do so. And early indications are that municipalities are primed to do just that: San Francisco supervisors are reportedly already considering implementing rent-control measures should the ballot initiative pass.
Opponents of the proposition, which include both the Democrat and Republican nominees for governor as well as the California Rental Housing Association, have out-raised it's supporters nearly three-to-one. They allege passage will harm homebuilders, result in tens of millions of decreased tax revenue, and could convince landlords to turn their household rental properties into higher-revenue-generating vacation rentals, thus further increasing California's full-time rental needs.
In San Francisco County, voters are considering Proposition C, which would authorize the city and county to tax large companies, mainly in the tech sector, to raise funds for fighting the city's homelessness crisis (around 8,000 homeless people live in the city). Notable supporters include Marc Benioff, the chief executive officer of Salesforce, the biggest employer in San Francisco. Opponents include Lyft, which donated $100,000 to PACS opposing the measure, and tech moguls like Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Marc Pincus of Zynga.