Huntington Beach City Council are moving forward with what they’re calling a “90-day plan to address homelessness.”
And they’re doing so while abandoning a housing plan with a goal of bringing thousands of affordable homes to Surf City – even though for years advocates have said the only real long term solution to homelessness is more housing because it keeps rents affordable.
This homelessness plan was one of the promises Huntington Beach’s new Republican council majority made to residents on the campaign trail, which also included fighting state mandated housing goals.
At their Tuesday meeting, city council members voted unanimously to approve their 90-day plan – about four months since the new council was inaugurated.
The plan focuses on outreach efforts to unhoused people, communication to business owners and residents about community resources and property rights and a review of existing homeless services and programs rather than housing.
A study conducted by Stanford University last year found that California’s homeless crisis was caused in part by high housing costs and called on the state to accelerate housing production to address the affordability problem.
“High housing costs and a low stock of affordable housing create a precarious situation, especially for lower-income families and individuals who are at higher risk of becoming homeless,” reads the study.
“One key factor exacerbating the housing supply shortage is the single-family zoning and local opposition to housing, often embodied by the ‘not in my backyard,’ or NIMBY, sentiment.”
The city’s plan comes as state officials are in the process of rolling out an initiative to get mentally ill and drug-addicted homeless people – who make up many of the visible houseless population – into treatment in what’s known as CARE court.
That statewide plan has faced a wave of pushback and criticism from civil rights groups, like the ACLU and the Human Rights Watch, who argue it’s another way to force treatments and conservatorships on people.
[Read: California’s CARE Court: A Step in the Right Direction or ‘Terrifying’ Step Backwards?]
In a January meeting, HB City Council members pledged to refocus the city’s efforts on enforcing anti-camping laws and pushing people toward the homeless shelter or out of the city altogether.
[Read: Will Huntington Beach’s 90-Day Plan to End Homelessness Work?]
As part of their outreach efforts, the plan calls for overtime for social workers as well as a review of the files of people staying at their homeless shelter.
The plan also calls for bringing in an outside consultant to evaluate the city’s homeless programs as well as to identify a case management system to help collect data.
The role of that consultant would be to look at the psychological barrier that keeps people living on the streets from wanting to accept help and how to better package their services.
“What this would do is bring in an outside perspective to evaluate our programs and see if there is a way that we can make a greater impact with what we have,” Police Lieutenant Brian Smith told council members.
Councilman Casey McKeon at the meeting called for specific metrics of success to be created so the council can see if their plan is working. Councilwoman Natalie Moser supported the idea.
“I know it took a lot of time, but this is obviously really important. Just establishing these metrics to measure success is critical and then every 90 days we can look back and see how we did and then adjust where necessary to keep improving,” McKeon said.
Advocates like Brooke Weitzman, an attorney for the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, have criticized the 90-day plan in the past saying it lacks concrete details, focuses on increased policing and would likely land the city into a lawsuit.
Surf City Axes Housing Plan
On Tuesday, a majority of council members also voted to can a state mandated housing plan with a goal to zone for 13,368 new homes in Surf City by the end of the decade.
Of those over 13,000 homes – 5,845 were supposed to be for very low and low income families.
[Read: Surf City Cans Housing Plan, Sets Up Another Legal Fight With Sacramento]
It is the council’s latest action taken in their fight against the state’s mandated housing goals and a decision that could cost them millions in fines, their control over local zoning and land them into a court receivership.
And the State Attorney General’s office is already warning of repercussions.
“It’s disappointing that Huntington Beach remains determined to blatantly violate state housing laws at every opportunity. DOJ has been monitoring the City Council’s actions closely, and will continue to enforce state laws that provide critical new housing opportunities for Californians in need,” reads a statement from the attorney general’s office.
The lack of a compliant housing plan opens Huntington Beach to Builder’s Remedy – an obscure law that could allow developers to sidestep city approval for housing development projects where 20% of the homes are affordable.
Two Builder’s Remedy applications have already been submitted, according to city records.
People Are Dying, Will HB’s Plan Work?
Huntington Beach’s homeless plan was approved months after the county released an inaugural report showing an increase of homeless people dying on the street for the past decade.
In 2021, 17 unhoused people died in Surf City, according to the report.
A different county report – last year’s point in time count – shows there were 330 homeless people in Huntington Beach in 2022, with 188 of those people being unsheltered.
Meanwhile, Huntington Beach City Council members approved new rules limiting homeless activity at parks and parking structures expected to take effect this week.
At the same time, some affordable housing is expected to come to Huntington Beach.
Even though a majority of officials axed their housing plan on Tuesday, the city – through the actions of a previous council – is utilizing Project Homekey in partnership with County officials.
Homekey is a state grant-funded program to buy motels and turn them into permanent homes for homeless people with onsite supportive services like mental health and drug addiction treatments.
The motel being converted is the Huntington Beach Oasis – one of six motels in Orange County being transformed into homes.
But still some council members worry that it is no longer affordable to live in Huntington Beach.
While debating the housing plan Tuesday, Councilman Dan Kalmick said the cost of housing is so high it threatens the city’s future.
“We aren’t going to build our way to affordability. I agree with that,” he said.
“Attainable housing is something that is gone in this city and I don’t think you can have a sustainable city with multimillion dollar homes in a city this size.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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