County and local governments are at the forefront of our housing and homelessness crisis and are best able to work with housing developers to reduce the extreme cost of building affordable and supportive housing, which currently stands around $600,000 per unit. By reducing red tape, expediting the permitting and approval process, and combating the “not in my back yard” attitude (or NIMBYism), which promotes the denial of the much-needed housing in our local neighborhoods, County and City governments can create an atmosphere that promotes the construction of housing to meet current demand.
Great first steps were taken by our legislature and the City of LA by passing AB 1197 (Santiago), where we saw community foundations, non-profit builders, supportive service providers, and the business community work side by side with civic leaders to find a workable, yet time-sensitive solution to our growing housing crisis. The implementation of this piece of legislation would stretch the existing voter supported Measure H and give way to the “housing first model.” In doing so, the housing first model would have the ability to assist in the reduction of homelessness and provide wrap-around services while also addressing the mental health component of the current crisis.
Additionally, once an individual experiencing poverty has a roof over their head, they need sufficient employment and earning capacity to begin reinvesting in themselves. County government should partner with the business community to promote and invest in all aspects of workforce development; ultimately, strengthening college access, career technical training, industry-specific apprenticeships, and career retraining while also breaking down barriers to opportunity faced by our most vulnerable residents.
Lastly, let’s not push more people into poverty. While protecting our environment and moving towards a more sustainable region is an important and ambitious goal, local governments should not sacrifice jobs in efforts to singularly pursue a green economy through local governments’ sustainability plans which call for the phase-out fossil of fuels eliminating thousands of middle-class jobs.
It’s not always about finding a job. Sometimes it’s about creating one. We have many entrepreneurs here in the Inland Empire who want to start businesses and create a job for themselves and for others. Unfortunately, the venture capital needed to get start-up businesses off the ground is in short supply in the Inland Empire.
Local governments can do more to highlight the opportunities our region has for investors and develop efforts like the Highlander Venture Fund at the University of California in Riverside to secure and leverage state and federal funds to grow new businesses and our economy.
Our region is one of the largest global economic logistics hubs in our nation. Let’s build on that by becoming the world’s leader in logistics technology. As automation changes the face of this industry, we can’t stand by and let others develop the robots, equipment, and other solutions that will be needed for logistics companies to adapt to changing trends. Instead, we need to work on ensuring those ideas are developed and cultivated here in the Inland Empire.
Diversifying and hiring or appointing local community members who understand the impact of their systems on communities in poverty. City councils should appoint diverse planning commission members who understand the impact of permits, future neighborhood developments, the need for affordable housing, etc. Not just appoint those who have given more to campaigns but those who really understand what lower income families must go through and the challenges and barriers they face systemically and politically. Cities can work in partnership with local public and private services for starting a pipeline into future careers, running summer programming that links local youth to future careers such as cyber security, technology, allied health, as well as industries where high retirement is occurring (utilities, trades, etc.).
Late last year, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles pioneered a pilot program that allows some people with a past conviction to live in public housing or in private housing as part of the Section 8 program. It’s a model that can and should be replicated in cities across the state. One of the consequences of banning people with past convictions from public housing is that in many cases it prevents families from living together. For people returning to the community after a period of incarceration, being able to reunite with their families is key to regaining stability and economic security, and to reducing the likelihood a person comes into contact with the justice system. And science and data have shown us there is a clear nexus between family reunification and economic success. Indeed, a united family increases the potential upward mobility of each of its members.
Counties and cities should offer contracts to motels to provide shelter to those unable to get housing, or a place to shower, or to leave one’s possessions while looking for a job. Many people are one good interview away from a job, and then a route out of poverty–but having no place to get clean or to receive communications about job opportunities is a huge impediment. Day care is the other big step local government can take to help parents as they look for jobs.
Measure all policies by whether these policies are helping reduce poverty and increase economic opportunity for those in poverty. County and City governments need to hold themselves accountable to whether or not poverty is being reduced year by year. City and County governments should not abdicate their responsibility and shift the responsibility to civil society organizations.
The city and counties have to recognize that they have to accommodate housing and companies rather than chase them away. This means, for example, converting surplus retail to housing, and allowing non-profits to build workforce housing. Cities can also do, as Long Beach has, tailor their educational program to work needed in the private sector, from data science and software to machinist, welder and other blue-collar jobs.
Many of the same opportunities available to state government are available in some way to local officials — emphasize low taxes and debt, limited/reasonable regulation, financial sustainability, build world-class infrastructure, and eliminate barriers to new home construction.
In Southern California, we need much better public schools, universal healthcare and rent control. Local governments should not put additional funding into prisons, juvenile facilities or law enforcement (that conducts racial profiling, widespread surveillance and assists ICE in detaining and deporting immigrants), but should instead pay for proactive measures that genuinely help low-income people and people of color. City and county governments need to require disaggregation of all public data so that the public can see how each ethnic community is doing vis-a-vis white communities.
City and County governments can also work to reduce structural barriers in the systems that they oversee. They can make investments in transportation and housing infrastructure that allows better access to jobs
City and County should not focus on economic development strategies with a narrow focus on increasing sales tax revenues.
Notwithstanding the state problems, local governments should not pile on their own. Cut red tape, grow jobs, approve new housing, shelter the most vulnerable and encourage supportive services to help.
Public safety is an often overlooked factor in economic analysis. Even a perfect plan for business development and public transit, for example, will fail if people don’t feel safe on the sidewalks and train platforms. Businesses with no customers go out of business, leading to economic hardship and poverty for their ex-employees and the wider community. But where there is safety, private enterprise can bring economic development and job opportunities to any community. So city and county governments should focus on the core mission of public safety instead of taxing and spending on massive projects in the hope that these will seed economic growth.
City and County governments can replicate programs like the Los Angeles Regional Initiative for Social Enterprise (LA:RISE). LA:RISE is an innovative partnership that unites the City and County of Los Angeles to help people with high employment barriers get jobs, stay employed, and build a better life. LA:RISE connects employment social enterprises to the workforce system, supportive services, and employers, allowing all partners to bring their expertise and resources to the table. LA:RISE has employed over 2,800 individuals facing barriers since 2016.
Programs like LA:RISE allow City and County governments to diversify and leverage workforce dollars to serve those hardest to reach by providing wrap around supports and transitional employment as a pathway back into the workforce. Local governments also need to create systems that integrate employment and housing. For example, the City of Los Angeles, Employment Social Enterprises and A Bridge Home providers are partnering to help transitional housing residents find employment.
County governments can also choose public benefits policies that address the ‘benefits cliff’ and slow the decrease in benefits when the earnings of low wage workers start to rise. Local governments can also provide benefits like low cost housing, and health insurance through local plans that enable low wage workers to access better health care services if their employers do not provide it and commercial plans are unaffordable or limited in scope. Lastly cities and counties can establish procurement policies that favor employment social enterprises in public contracting, offering them a similar status to minority and women-owned businesses.