California is home to Hollywood, year-round sunshine and stunning beaches, but it’s also home to roughly one-third of the nation’s homeless population — a mammoth problem that is top of mind for many Golden State voters as they select their new U.S. senator.
The state’s homelessness crisis is closely intertwined with its shortage of affordable housing. About 90% of unhoused Californians cite the cost of housing as the main reason they cannot escape homelessness, according to UCSF’s report, California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness.
Politicians have long tried, and failed, to stymie the growth of the state’s unhoused population, which now numbers more than 170,000.
So, how would the four leading senate candidates — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), former Dodger Steve Garvey, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) — address homelessness?
Schiff, who is currently leading the polls with about 25% of the vote, released a detailed affordable housing and homelessness plan on Friday . It calls for a $100 billion increase in federal funding for people experiencing homelessness, a dramatic expansion of Section 8 Housing vouchers for renters and tax incentives to build more housing.
Garvey, on the other hand, does not want to start by doling out more money to solve the problem. He seeks to begin with an audit of all federal homelessness programs to gauge how efficiently money is being spent, he told the Daily News in an interview. He calls for investing in proven affordable housing, mental health and substance use solutions.
The sole Republican out of the top four candidates is tied with Porter for second place and has approximately 15% of the vote, according to recent polls.
Porter sees the state’s homelessness crisis as a direct result of its housing crisis and released a ten point plan on Wednesday outlining how she would rapidly build more homes, lower rent costs and increase homeownership opportunities.
Lee seeks to invest more than $1 trillion in the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to build millions of affordable units, offer assistance for first-time home buyers and provide rent relief for lower-income renters, according to her campaign website. The Oakland congresswoman currently trails the other three candidates with 8% of the vote.
Here is a closer look at each of the top four candidates’ plans:
Rep. Adam Schiff calls for rapid housing production, rental subsidies
Dramatically increasing the supply of affordable units is Schiff’s top priority for addressing homelessness, he said in an interview with the Daily News.
“There’s no way we’re going to solve the problem of affordability when people can’t afford to live anywhere near where they work, or that of homelessness when people are can’t afford any home whatsoever,” he said.
He seeks to dramatically expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit enabling developers to rapidly produce 230,000 affordable homes. He also hopes to create federal low-interest loans for building multifamily housing projects. Lastly, he calls for converting unused government land into housing and funding studies on faster, cost-effective building techniques.
“We can’t take four years to build housing if we’re ever going to solve this problem,” he said.
Schiff also wants to see greater investment in preventing homelessness.
He wants to make the Federal Section 8 Housing program an entitlement program, meaning that every low-income household eligible for a rental subsidy voucher would automatically receive one. He also seeks to establish a tax credit to assist renters who are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing.
“Keeping people housed is also part of the solution,” he said. “With rents going up as dramatically as they are and most renters getting no help with their rent — that’s a prescription for disaster.”
When it comes to getting people off the street he believes in the “housing first” model, meaning the first step is putting a roof over their heads and the second step is providing them with mental health, substance use and job assistance services.
Steve Garvey wants more efficient spending on homeless services
While Steve Garvey is a political newcomer, he has been studying the homelessness crisis by visiting encampments and talking to people about the barriers they face in getting back into housing, he told the Daily News in an interview.
“It really is the mental illness and drugs that put most of them in this situation,” he said. “Do they need a roof over their head? Absolutely, but if you don’t get to the real crux of the issue, then you don’t get that person on a pathway back into society.”
A 2023 state report found that California spent about $10 billion over three years to halt homelessness. Garvey wants to know exactly where that money went.
If elected, his first step to address homelessness would be to order an audit of all federal spending on homelessness.
“Let’s find out first where all that money went to and find out how it has been wasted,” he said, “And how we can best put government money to use to help these people get off the streets.”
After the audit is complete he wants to drive investment into affordable housing, substance use and mental health programs that have a track record of successfully keeping people off of the streets, he said. He also wants to engage private sector business leaders as philanthropic funders of these programs.
Lastly, Garvey calls for a crackdown against drug dealers, saying the widespread availability of street drugs is part of what traps people in cycles of addiction and homelessness.
“Let’s start with crime on the streets and get the drug lords, so to speak, away from influencing these people,” he said.
Katie Porter seeks to solve homelessness with housing
Similar to her Democratic competitors Schiff and Lee, Porter believes that building more housing is the most important step to solving the homelessness crisis.
“I don’t want my kids to leave California just because they can’t afford to live here. As California’s senator, I’ll shake up the Senate and get Washington focused on California’s housing challenges,” she said in a statement on her plan to tackle California’s housing affordability crisis.
Porter wants to create a select committee in Congress focused on increasing housing and reducing costs.
She hopes to incentivize the production of multifamily housing developments with tax credits and government loan guarantees. She seeks to keep renters housed through rental vouchers and government-backed leases for seniors and college students.
In addition, she wants to lower the barriers to homeownership by offering federal assistance with down payments.
Porter also supports investments in permanent supportive housing and in mental health and substance use disorder treatment, including funding more treatment beds, Lindsay Reilly, a spokesperson for her campaign, said.
Barbara Lee calls for funding affordable housing, mental health
Lee is the sole candidate who has lived homeless. After fleeing an abusive marriage, she was unhoused for a period and “knows how bad it can get.”
“That is why it is a top priority for me to solve California’s homelessness crisis,” she said in a statement provided to the Daily News. “It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach—investing in affordable housing, defending renters’ rights, prioritizing mental health care, and fighting for greater affordability and economic equity across the board.”
She is currently fighting to pass the the Ending Homelessness Act, which would provide $10 billion in federal funding to construct affordable housing nationwide. She supports converting government-owned land into housing developments.
Her plan also calls for providing Californians with federal assistance for home down payments and apartment security deposits. In addition, she seeks to raise the federal minimum wage so working people can afford housing.
“At the same time, we have to get to some of the other root causes of homelessness,” she said. “We need to fight for affordable health care that includes mental health care.”
Lee is a proud supporter of Medicare for All and said she will continue to push for it in the Senate.
“I have been a voice for renters, working people, and unhoused people my entire career,” she said, “and I will be their strong advocate in the Senate.”
All four leading Senate candidates will have another opportunity to present their policy platforms on Monday during KTLA’s televised U.S. Senate debate from 7 to 8 p.m.
Vote by mail ballots have already been sent to registered voters and early vote center will open on Feb. 24. The top-two vote getters in the March 5 primary will proceed to a runoff in the November General Election.