CapRadio: U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla wants to take California’s Project Homekey national

By Nicole Nixon

Senator Alex Padilla will introduce legislation to pump more than $531 billion into affordable housing projects around the country. The bill could dramatically increase federal funding for two of California’s longstanding issues that have each worsened during the pandemic: homelessness and a shortage of affordable housing

“A problem of this importance calls for an all hands on deck approach,” Padilla said Friday at a former hotel in South Sacramento that had been converted into long-term housing under California’s Homekey project.

Early in the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom created Project Roomkey — Homekey’s predecessor — to provide non-congregate shelter options for homeless people in an effort to keep the virus from spreading among an already vulnerable population. To provide more permanent living situations, the state and local governments have converted roughly 6,000 hotel and motel rooms into long-term housing.

The Democratic Senator says the legislation would “scale up more of the creative solutions that cities and states have successfully developed” such as the 124-unit La Mancha Apartments in South Sacramento.

The vast majority of the funding Padilla is proposing would go to the National Housing Trust Fund, which distributes revenue to build, maintain and renovate housing for extremely low-income people.

In 2021, just under $690 million was available in the Housing Trust Fund. Housing advocates have been pushing for years to expand it, calling on Congress in 2018 to allocate at least $3.5 billion annually. Under Padilla’s legislation, it would receive $45 billion annually to distribute to housing projects for ten years.

It also includes funding for supportive housing for people with disabilities, rental assistance programs and $500 million for hotel acquisitions to duplicate the Homekey project in other states.

California Reps. Ted Lieu and Salud Carbajal will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House.

“This is an incredible start,” said Doug Shoemaker, president of Mercy Housing, a nonprofit that operates the converted apartment building Padilla showcased Friday and others like it. “There’s many, many more people that need housing here in California.”

Shoemaker said the homeless crisis has “lasted so long that it is now sort of a taken-for-granted element of our landscape. And that really should not be.”

Padilla was backed by members of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, the California Association of Counties and the City of Sacramento, who spoke in support of the legislation.

Newsom and the Democratic-held Legislature allocated $11 billion last year to build short- and long-term housing for unsheltered people. The governor is proposing another $2 billion this year.

“No state can do it alone. We need Washington, DC to match our urgency and increase their financial commitment to solving this existential crisis,” Newsom said in a statement.

When asked how he would get Republican support for the half-trillion-dollar price tag in a closely divided Senate, Padilla said increasingly, rural areas and smaller cities across the country are facing affordable housing shortages.

“This is not a red state versus a blue state challenge,” he said. “And this is not a red state versus blue state solution. This is a significant investment in the proven successful programs in all parts of the country.”

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, more than 161,000 unsheltered people live in California, the most of any state.

La Shelle Dozier, executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, said she expects the local numbers to increase based on the biannual Point in Time count, which took place earlier this week. The final numbers have not yet been released.

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