‘Big City Mayors’ Ask Lawmakers for $1 Billion for Housing

As the California Legislature gets closer to finalizing its new fiscal budget, the Big City Mayor coalition is urging the state to stay true to the state Assembly's recent proposal to provide an annual $1 billion in flexible funding directly to cities for four years.

“We need a financial commitment now through this budget,” San Jose Mayor and chair of the Big City Mayor coalition Sam Liccardo said. “And this challenge, and our response will define our generation’s collective legacy.”

In April, the coalition, including mayors from the state's 13 largest cities, had asked for a $20 billion, five-year investment to curb homelessness—half of the state's surplus.

While they did not get exactly what they were asking for, the mayors said it is still a notable investment that would allow cities to house thousands of more residents.

“Usually when the crisis comes the sources aren't there, when the resources are there, the crisis isn't there,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “This is actually a match made in heaven—a problem we wish we didn't have but finally, a solution that is right there in front of us.”

Garcetti and other big city mayors said large investments provided directly to cities and counties, like Project Roomkey and Project Housekey, is proof that this technique is effective.

Through state funding in the 20/21 fiscal year, Los Angeles was able to purchase 15 of the 20 total buildings to shelter thousands of unhoused residents.

In Sacramento, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the city was able to make significant strides to help hundreds of residents get out of the cycle of homelessness, not only through housing but mental health support and other programs.

San Jose was able to build three interim housing sites and in Oakland, the city purchased homes for senior residents and other unutilized spaces to provide creative housing solutions.

In Bakersfield, state money allowed the city to double its emergency beds as well, among several other investments.

“But if the funding is not continued in some form, there will be a cliff and all of the projects that we have stood up will no longer have the funding to be able to continue,"”Steinberg said.

Mayors Libby Schaaf from Oakland and Karen Goh from Bakersfield said in their respective cities, surveys found that the number one priority for residents was to solve homelessness.

“Homelessness was ranked as the number one priority of our residents and you've heard that from all my colleagues,” Goh said. “The impact of homelessness is felt most by our cities. Daily, we hear about the impact from our residents.”

Recent figures show that California has more than 160,000 unhoused residents—the largest homeless population in the country, according to data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The 13 cities represented by the Big City Mayor Coalition make up 29 percent of the state's population but 59 percent of the state's unhoused population.

“This is not a group of mayors, this is the voice of California,” Garcetti said. “And certainly, the biggest chunk of this problem.”

That is why these mayors have been advocating fervently for this funding.

With the combination of the state's $26 billion in federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan and the state's record surplus, mayors are saying now is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to meet the moment.

“Years from now, if we continue to see the scourge of homelessness in our community at the level we currently see it, we will be asked, and understandably will be demanded of us to say ‘what did we do when we had the opportunity to do something?’” Liccardo said. “This is that moment.”

The state is poised to approve its budget by July 1. Assuming no changes are made to the proposed homeless investment, local governments grappling with significant homeless populations should expect to see funding around August, Garcetti said.

Jana Kadah is a writer for Bay City News.



  1. We all have gotten accustomed to the term “High-Density Housing.”

    Now, the “Big City Mayoral coalition” is foisting a “new” term upon us to justify throwing our “good tax-payer dollars after the bad tax-payer dollars” they have already foolishly wasted on housing the Homeless.

    The “new term” is “High Density Mayoral Morons.”

    When the “Free-money” runs out there will be a catastrophic wave of “Homelessness” as a result of enticing the “world” to come to the Bay Area for Free-Housing (amongst a host of additional freebies).

    California’s budget surplus spending should focus on providing a sustainable source of potable water especially, for the farmers.

    By the way, Recall Newsom-the most worthless piece of gubernatorial crap on two-legs in the history of California.

    David S. Wall

  2. Bring back insane asylums. Probably 25% of the homeless could be housed in these high density institutions. they would also be cheaper to operate than jails, where many mentally ill end up today.

  3. “Big-City Mayors” brings to mind an image of aping the already lost Blue causes in the eastern US. Is trying to bypass the state legislature and sponge of the feds and taxpayers nation-wide next, too, as has been done before? Federal housing?

  4. Good news for PATH and the other homeless non-profits that will take the majority of that funding and provide very little for it. But we will fund endless studies and feasibility reports.

  5. As the relatively successful Project Homekey illustrates, government-owned housing on government-owned land is the lowest cost and most rapid way to produce affordable housing. As noted elsewhere, the best example of such housing around here is campus housing at San Jose State University (SJSU) (https://www.sanjoseinside.com/news/whats-next-for-guadalupe-river-park-and-sjs-homeless-crisis/#comment-1698926).

    The newest housing at SJSU is the ten-story Campus Village 2 (CV2) residence tower, completed in 2016 at a construction cost of $102 million. With utilities, amenities and furnishings, the project ended with a total cost of $126 million (https://www.sundt.com/projects/san-jose-state-university-campus-village-phase-2/; https://blogs.sjsu.edu/newsroom/2014/sjsu-breaks-ground-on-new-dorm/). Of course, this excludes the land costs since SJSU owns the land on which it is built, public land that is outside the private real estate market in perpetuity and, therefore, not subject to speculation and land price inflation.

    The tower has 50 rooms on each of the top eight floors for a total of 400 rooms. Each floor can be flexibly configured with double or triple occupancy apartments. In recent years, CV2 has housed 850-950 students and, most recently, the monthly rental rate was $1,251 (https://www.housing.sjsu.edu/docs/HousingBrochure_2020.pdf).

    If only 400 people were housed in this residence building, each with their own apartment, the total per person construction cost would have been $255,000 and the total per person project cost would have been $315,000 in 2016. If each apartment is occupied by two people, the per person construction cost is cut in half to about $127,500 and the per person total project cost falls to $157,500. Of course, construction costs have risen in the five years since CV2’s completion but, as SJSU’s experience indicates, average housing costs can be lowered significantly by building on public land and by raising housing densities to spread costs over more people. Rents collected from residents in public housing over the longer term recovers the costs of construction, maintenance and upkeep.

    By cutting out the middlemen, i.e. profit-seeking landlords and real estate speculators, rents can be set at levels that insure cost recovery only. Rather than waiting for the state to come to the rescue, the California big city councils could immediately designate public parcels for high-density, publicly-owned and operated housing and then contact the Facilities Development and Operations Departments of the nearest California State University or College (CSUC) (every one of those cities has a CSUC campus nearby) to obtain their advice and guidance on planning and building affordable housing on public lands. State and federal housing assistance money could and should be used to bolster and accelerate such projects, rather than merely rental assistance projects.

    It should also be recognized that California’s university campuses provide templates for urban and regional planners for ways to make cities more livable, convenient and affordable. Universities commingle and juxtapose housing, work, leisure, community, transport and open spaces in compact, creative, effective and environmentally sustainable ways. Urban planners committed to such principles and values should be studying university campuses for the many, many ways they shine light on livable futures for all of us.

  6. SJSU housing is not the answer, it is more expensive than Palo Alto.

    If landlords could charge per occupant, they would love it, and families would be paying 100%+ of their takehome on rent

    rent per occupant is not a valid comparison

    how many times does this need to be debunked


    publically developed units are at least $600k, as per reported above

    at 4% capital costs and zero investment recovery, you are looking at $2000 a month

    of course thats just the building, not the ngo infrastructure to “manage” it, which is at half again of that number

    there is no substitute for market rate housing and rentals, which will never happen in SJ or elsewhere in SV due to CEQA, urban growth boundaries, open spaces, inclusionary fees, impact fees, rent control, and causa justa. these “intentions” are all smoke to cover nimbyism and deliberately constraining supply.

    if the city wants to eminent domain existing units, fine, pony up
    if the city wants to master lease buildings for 10, 20, 30 years, make a proposal to landlords

    what they are doing, has not, does not, and will never work

  7. “As the relatively successful Project Homekey illustrates, government-owned housing on government-owned land is the lowest cost and most rapid way to produce affordable housing. As noted elsewhere, the best example of such housing around here is campus housing at San Jose State University (SJSU)
    It should also be recognized that California’s university campuses provide templates for urban and regional planners for ways to make cities more livable, convenient and affordable.”

    I have called public housing the logical last resort, when nothing else pays or pays enough in the private sector, but there is no innovation — it’s the 1960s-70s again, with or without improper federal intervention. (especially with the South Bay’s wealth) What needs learning and application is to avoid the mistakes of the earlier era. I don’t believe deeper-Blue governments are capable of that. (And isn’t South Bay real estate expensive and likely to become more so thanks to Google?)

    Dormitories are not sufficient homes for many people, never mind the obvious problems once there are children (especially teens, and Bay Area news “teens”). The same is true of apartments. Dormitory rooms and motel rooms with small kitchens, or mini- or micro-apartment models, aren’t suitable for everyone. Expecting that is institutional (yes, government) with possibly uglier tones as well as killing aspiration if there’s no prospect of improvement of that. (Yes, think about moving if one can.) Crowded conditions and high-rise environments are not for everyone, particularly for those with children. I suspect there even are a number of Millennials and tech workers who wouldn’t like it because it’s too crowded, noisy, stressful, poor soundproofing, ventilation, odor control, etc., and STRESSFUL. Plus threats or experience of abuse or harm… That’s already true with students, too. Hopefully that’s not the future for so many elderly, too, especially if they could move.

  8. It’s cheaper, which is why it’s done, to build mid-rise wood-frame khrushchovka housing blocks. That’s what more desperate governments would likely resort to for public housing, especially to save time as well as money. And it won’t be Paris.

  9. In Santa Clara County we tried this trick already. We approved $1 billion dollars to house the homeless and it resulted in 300 new motel rooms for the homeless and a quadrupling of the homeless population. If we’ve learned anything, it is that throwing money down the toilet at this problem is the completely wrong approach. No wonder Sam is for it.

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