In summary

After years of mounting failure to address affordable housing and homelessness at the scale of the need required, 2021 will be California’s big chance.

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By Lisa Hershey, Special to CalMatters

Lisa Hershey is the executive director of Housing California,

This year’s election results underscore what we’ve known all along – Californians want affordable homes, health and prosperity for all. 

After years of mounting failure to address affordable housing and homelessness at the scale of the need required, 2021 will be our big chance. But as progressives found following the 2008 election, it’s all too easy to squander the chance. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” 

We must take four steps to ensure our struggle yields change rather than disappointment.

First, we must settle our differences and find common ground, from labor standards to NIMBYism. We cannot afford for a strong agenda to once again be derailed by infighting and disputes. Voters want us to find common ground to advance real solutions. It takes everyone to win, and we all must row in the same direction to make an impact.

Second, legislators and the governor must prioritize proven, evidence-based solutions that help tenants stay in their homes, build homes near jobs and transit that are targeted at those struggling the most to afford one, and assist Californians to exit homelessness. 

It’s no longer the time for measures borne out of frustration, like encampment sweeps, or borne out of a false sense of need to help those who require none, like market-rate home construction for wealthier Californians. History shows us these steps are ineffective, and we cannot afford to spin our wheels. 

The economic distress caused by the pandemic has fallen on the shoulders of Californians already paying too much for rent, especially Black and Brown Californians. These neighbors must choose between a roof and a nourishing meal, demanding a landlord address mold or an eviction notice. Our solutions incorporate their lived experience to inform and advance an effective agenda.

Third, our plan must be coordinated, not a scattershot set of solutions that fiddles on the margins. A game of chess is won not through aimless shuffling of pieces around the board, but executing a planned strategy where every piece plays a role. 

To win this fight, the nonprofit I lead, Housing California, together with California Housing Partnership, will introduce the Roadmap HOME 2030 – an initiative to set forth a bold, 10-year strategic vision, a provocative people-centered, equity based framework, and comprehensive, evidence-based policy solutions. Building on the lived expertise of renters and Californians experiencing homelessness, and with wisdom from academia, nonprofits, health care, developers and labor, the Roadmap HOME 2030 will be the guide for policymakers.

Last, though Proposition 15 narrowly failed, the message is clear: a growing number of Californians want to invest deeply in our communities, starting with affordable housing. More than 7 million Californians voted for corporations to pay their fair share so we can deliver on this promise, along with strong majorities in favor of local measures like Measure A in San Diego and Measure J in Los Angeles – all of which invest in affordable housing and proven solutions to end homelessness. 

This month, Housing California and allies around the state launched Bring CA Home, an initiative to identify and provide $2.4 billion in annual sustained investment. 

We’ll use the funds to develop newly empty office buildings, parking lots and vacant strip malls into permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. This will ensure that as our economy increasingly shifts to working and shopping from home, we complete an equitable transition – making the most of our land to build the 1.3 million affordable homes we’ll need to meet demand.

It’s up to us to implement the change Californians seek and turn these goals into reality. Taking these steps will require us to work together and listen to everyone’s perspectives, then find solutions that work for all. When we do, and invest in our values along the way, we’ll win affordable homes for all in sustainable, vibrant and inclusive communities across the Golden State.


Lisa has also written about mapping out comprehensive solutions to the housing crisis and homelessness.

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