By Hannah Wiley
January 23, 2020 —
A California bill that would have created a “right to housing” mandate died a mysterious death on Thursday.
Assembly Bill 22 would have declared that California children and families have a “right to safe, decent and affordable housing” and required state agencies to keep people in shelters if they don’t have stable housing.
Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, said she was “1,000 percent” shocked that the Assembly Appropriations committee blocked it, and learned about its demise only after she walked into the hearing room to present the measure.
“I thought I would at least be allowed to present on the bill,” Burke said in a phone interview with The Sacramento Bee. “There are accountability issues that need to be addressed. This can’t be cities by themselves. It has to be a partnership between cities, counties and states.”
The bill sailed through its first hearing on Jan. 15, with a 6-0 vote in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. The legislation included 15 co-authors, at least one of them Republican, representing the Central Valley, the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Burke said she also met with two members of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s homelessness task force, which recently urged the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would force local governments and the state to more dramatically address the homeless crisis.
Sacramento Mayor and task force co-chairman Darrell Steinberg first introduced the proposal in July as a statewide “right to shelter” requirement that mirrors New York City’s.
Burke similarly visited New York City during a “fact-finding trip” that convinced her California needed to adopt a similar and ambitious solution to get the state’s 151,000 homeless people off the streets. More than 108,000 live outdoors. Newsom asked lawmakers to allocate $750 million for homeless solutions in his January budget proposal.
The Appropriations Committee estimated that AB 22 would require at least tens of millions of dollars to help shelter children and families. About $928,000 in the proposed law’s first year would be needed to coordinate and provide resources.
Burke said she had revised portions of the bill with the task force’s recommendations, based on urging from Assembly Appropriations Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.
The changes including pushing back the “right to housing” date so cities and counties would have more time to establish plans that meet requirements, Burke said.
Despite the amendments, Burke said she didn’t receive “any constructive feedback” from Gonzalez or the committee.
“She didn’t want to give me the chance to speak or give me a chance to explain where the bill was and where we were planning on taking it,” Burke said. “At some point she and I will obviously have to have a conversation about it, and I hope it’s more productive than what happened today.”
Gonzalez, however, said she had notified Burke of AB 22’s likely fate the day before it faced her committee’s consideration. The issue wasn’t the bill itself, Gonzalez said, but one of procedural consideration.
AB 22 is a two-year proposal, meaning the bill was introduced last year but then paused until 2020. Lawmakers will usually delay their own measures to buy time for negotiations. However, Burke just recently included the “right to housing” language through a process called “gut and amend,” when legislators will swap out one policy with a new proposal.
Gonzalez said Burke needed to restart the bill so she could work with the Legislature’s housing consultants to “get a bill in shape that we could properly analyze and move forward.” Gonzalez also said Burke’s most recent amendments arrived too late this week and were not filed correctly, but through email correspondence.
The Appropriations process is notoriously complicated, and one that lacks transparency. It’s often difficult to discern why a bill died or was changed, as lawmakers vote privately on the measures. Gonzalez said many of the bills her committee killed on Thursday would likely be reintroduced. Because California faces an obvious homelessness emergency that demands urgent attention, she said, Burke’s idea is “an important issue to get right.”
“I gave her a heads up because I know it’s an important issue, it’s important to the caucus and it’s important to her obviously,” Gonzalez told The Bee. “I did something that I so rarely do so she could get started on reintroducing a bill.”
Burke can technically revive her idea through fresh legislation by the Feb. 21 bill introduction deadline. Then it would have to start fresh with committee hearings and, eventually, another Appropriations hurdle.
“This isn’t over, by a long shot,” Burke said. “This supersedes politics. This is children and families living on the streets, living in tents under freeways. It’s not an ego project, a politics project, it’s a moral imperative.”