A coalition of mayors from California’s 13 largest cities is calling on the state to allocate half of its $40 billion surplus to local governments to curb and end homelessness.

The Big City Mayors coalition is seeking a $4 billion per-year, five-year investment for a total of $20 billion in flexible funding as part of the state budget.

“There’s no question it’s a big investment,” coalition chair and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a virtual news conference on Thursday. “But spending half of a surplus on the biggest problem we face in California, and making that commitment last for a half decade, that’s money well spent.”

With the combination of the state’s $26 billion in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan and the record surplus, mayors see this as a unique opportunity to make drastic impacts for the states 161,000 unhoused residents.

Mayors are calling the surplus a “generational opportunity,” because, economic challenges make it difficult to identify an ongoing revenue source.

If approved, the funding would be roughly 10 times greater than any funding the cities have received in the past, Sacramento Mayor Darell Steinberg said.

Steinberg noted that even with a fraction of what they are asking for now, cities have been able to house hundreds of residents with state money from Project Roomkey, Project Homekey and other initiatives.

‘We’ve shown we can do this’

In a letter to state Senate and Assembly leaders, mayors wrote that through Project Homekey, cities were able to create transitional housing at $148,000 per unit.

“Based on the average cost of our Project Homekey success, a four-year allocation of $16 billion that we’ve outlined could create more than 100,000 homes — or enough to permanently house nearly every Californian who entered a homeless shelter in 2020,” the letter reads.

Steinberg also noted that additional resources could support those dealing with rent struggles, prevent evictions and prevent people from losing their homes — essentially preventing homelessness.

“Imagine a California with these kinds of investments,” he said.

Mayors emphasized that the funding would need to be flexible because every city has unique ways in addressing and combatting homeless.

“There’s no question it’s a big investment. But spending half of a surplus on the biggest problem we face in California, and making that commitment last for a half decade, that’s money well spent.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo, coalition chairman

In San Jose, the city utilized state funding to build three interim housing sites on neglected public land within months, Liccardo said.

“Building apartments in the Bay Area typically costs about $700,000 per apartment unit and requires four or five years to build in a development cycle,” Liccardo said. “We’ve shown we can do this… in less than six months at a fifth of the cost.”

San Francisco used its state funding to create more than 9,000 permanent housing placements through initiatives like purchasing hotels, its Mayor London Breed said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also touted her city’s success by pointing to a couple of “unique initiatives” that have allowed the city to double the number of residents sheltered over the past year.

Initiatives include creating safe RV parks, buying and transforming an old college dormitory into housing and even purchasing single-family homes to create a haven for homeless seniors to live together.

“We know how to fix this problem. Each of our jurisdictions have done detailed analyses and have regional plans in the Bay Area,” Schaaf said. “We just need the resources.”

Schaaf pointed to the regional Bay Area action plan created by nonprofit All Home that seeks to shrink the region’s homeless population by 75 percent in three years by following the 1-2-4 framework.

Essentially, this means for every one unit of interim housing built, there should be two units of permanent housing and four units of homeless prevention interventions to keep people housed.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said his city has used state funding to build three interim housing sites for a fraction of the time and expense that it would take to house homeless residents in traditional apartments. (Photo by Jana Kadah/Bay City News Foundation)

Growing need affects quality of life

The last part of the framework, which could look like accelerated cash payments, income-targeted rental assistance and other housing support, is the most important aspect she said.

“What we’re seeing is we’re getting people out of homelessness, but new people are becoming homeless at a faster rate,” Schaaf said.

She continued that a solution to homelessness is what residents wanted too.

Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln echoed this sentiment as well.

“Over 80 percent of Stockton residents view homelessness as a humanitarian crisis affecting the quality of life for all Stocktonians,” Lincoln said.

So how likely is it that the Big City Mayors coalition get their request met?

Well, already State Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Speaker Anthony Rendon have voiced their support, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

“We know how to fix this problem. Each of our jurisdictions have done detailed analyses and have regional plans in the Bay Area. We just need the resources.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

The $4 billion yearly funding for housing and homelessness is also listed as budget priorities, released last week, for both the Assembly and state Senate.

If passed, the funding would likely be split between cities and counties, with more funding going to entities with more homelessness, Liccardo said.

“The allocation typically is based on a formula that combines both point in time, homeless counts and population and so we expect those kinds of formulas to continue,” Liccardo said. “And we’ll be certainly advocating to ensure that the hardest hit cities, after all it’s large cities that have suffered most from homelessness, are in fact, front and center.”

It won’t be an easy road, but the mayors said they are hopeful.

“We just have a sense of optimism here,” Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson said. “We can begin to move the needle, we can begin to make a change.”

The Big City Mayors coalition includes Mayors from Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland, Bakersfield, Anaheim, Riverside, Santa Ana and Stockton.