Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday praised Mountain View and the nonprofit LifeMoves for transforming a vehicle maintenance yard into an interim housing complex for the homeless in just six months, calling it a radical new template for solving a perennial problem in California.
Standing alongside city and state elected officials at LifeMoves Mountain View, Newsom announced that the state is poised to pass a budget with a $12 billion commitment to homelessness prevention and support, with an eye toward housing that can be built quickly and less expensively. He said the 100-unit complex on Leghorn Street in Mountain View is exactly the kind of project that needs to be replicated, using modular prefabricated buildings that can be stood up at blazing fast speeds and at a fraction of the cost of normal housing.
"In the housing space, this is simply without precedent," he said. "Arguably not just in California history but, as we're now learning, in American history."
Newsom noted that the latest round of federal stimulus, the American Rescue Plan Act, allocates $5 billion in grants to state governments to support similar programs.
Mountain View and LifeMoves partnered up in August last year to create homeless housing on the site, with an eye toward stabilizing those who become homeless by providing a short-term place to live for 90 to 120 days. With a looming deadline and no time to spare, city planning staff put forth an application for state funds through California's Homekey program, and managed to score nearly $14.4 million in state funding to build and operate the site.
Though Homekey has largely been used to buy and convert hotels and motels into homeless housing, Mountain View's approach involved a much more ambitious demolition of the industrial site and creating an entirely new set of housing units capable of housing about 124 people at a time. At the Friday press conference, LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman called it the "1.0" version and a successful case study in how the state can and should replicate Mountain View's project all over the state.
State Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, hailed the project as "real change" to get people off the streets of Mountain View and across the state, and that the outside-of-the-box approach meant the project could go from an idea to a reality in just six months. For local governments, that's moving on a dime, he said.
"We can't put a park bench up in a city park in six months," Berman said. "The fact that you've got homes now for 125 people, up to 350 per year, is truly amazing."
Newsom was joined by state Sen. Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, and Mountain View Mayor Ellen Kamei, who called the project a "safe, supportive and dignified program" to help people find stable housing. Also there supporting the project was Najee Harris, a running back for the Pittsburg Steelers who grew up homeless in the Bay Area and has since launched a nonprofit to fight homelessness.
Overall, Newsom said the $846 million in Homekey funding last year has resulted in more than 6,000 housing units across the state, also at a rapid pace and averaging about $148,000 per unit or room. It costs a bit more in the Bay Area, he said, but it does include all costs, including land acquisition and infrastructure. Looking to expand that progress, Newsom said the $12 billion investment blows away previous budget commitments to fighting homelessness — the previous all-time high was $1 billion.
During the press conference, Newsom also made a series of critical announcements related to the state's moratorium on evictions and state funding available to pay for unpaid rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that his office and state lawmakers have agreed to extend the moratorium until Sept. 30, and that anyone who has unpaid rent due to the pandemic can have 100% of it wiped clean through the state's new relief fund.
The agreement includes all unpaid rent from April 2020 to September 2021, and will be available to those who have lost income or incurred significant medical expenses due to COVID-19. A total of $5.2 billion has been allocated for renter relief, Newsom said, along with $2 billion for those with unpaid utility bills. The newly announced plan deviates from SB 91, which offered to pay 80% of back rent if landlords were willing to forgive the remaining 20%.
"Anyone who has been impacted by this pandemic and cannot pay rent, 100% of that rent will be paid for ... under this rent deal," he said.
Though the state, up until now, has run its rent relief program with the requirement that landlords participate, Newsom said that will no longer be the case. He said tenants will no longer have to rely on a landlord's agreement to apply for and receive state money to pay off back rent.