Lisa Hershey
Lisa Hershey

Housing California is a Sacramento-based advocacy group that aims to prevent and end homelessness and increase the variety and supply of permanently affordable homes throughout the state. The organization recently released its “Roadmap Home 2030” a long-term plan to promote the development of affordable homes, protect low-income renters, end homelessness, and advance racial equity and economic inclusion. Those goals are, arguably, more crucial than ever, with an estimated state housing deficit north of 2 million units and over 160,000 chronically unhoused people.

Housing California Executive Director Lisa Hershey, a longtime advocate for housing and public health in a variety of public sector roles, will be participating in the panel “Tackling the Homeless Crisis in California,” one of the three “Big Conversations” at this week’s conference of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association. CP&DR’s Josh Stephens spoke with Hershey, along with Housing California Associate Director David Zisser, about the organization’s vision and its message for planners at this year’s conference.

This article is being published in coordination with APA California; CP&DR is a media sponsor of this year’s conference.

What aspect of the housing crisis is Housing California currently focusing on?

In order to transform California, we needed to think strategically. Housing California collaborated with the California Housing Partnership and the 30 people on our policy advisory committee and a broad and rich research advisory committee to create a 10-year strategic vision of a California with homes, health, and wealth for all in thriving, sustainable communities. Our goals are, essentially: one, to produce 1.2 million affordable homes; two, to get the 161,000 folks who are experiencing homelessness on any given night off the streets and permanently housed; and, three, to stabilize folks who are experiencing housing insecurity and to protect people and to center racial equity and economic justice in all of our policy solutions. we have 57 evidence-based solutions that if over the next 10 years that we collectively advanced, we would achieve those goals, transform California and, and, or put a serious dent in homelessness as we know it today.

The 1.2 million homes for instance, is there a geographic approach to that? Is that in cities? Is that on the coast?

We worked with the California Housing Partnership does deep research to come up with numbers around what the need is. We wanted to align these numbers with systems and processes that the state is already using, and that the localities are being held accountable and responsible for. We touch down across the state. So we are thinking about rural, urban, and suburban. We're thinking about inland and coastal and collectively what California needs.

Within this this vision, what are the roles of the different levels of government be they state be the MPO be that county or municipal?

Everybody has a role. The Roadmap Home is focused on state policy, but what we know is that each level of government is critical to the success of this plan. As we think about creating transformative change, we know that some decisions are made in a local jurisdiction, city, or county. But we also know, and if you look at MPOs, right, there is a reason that they are set up as regional entities. We think about California as this locally connected, regionally organized state.

We're excited about about the federal response because so much of our success in housing, homelessness, and the social safety net leverages what comes from the federal government. With the leadership we have there now, and the investments that have already been put forward in partnership with the state and local governments, we have the potential to really create the transformation. These are big numbers. We know that the affordable housing community has been losing about $1.7 billion a year since once redevelopment went away. I believe with the governor and the administration that we have in place, we have what we need to collectively leverage and create the transformation we need to see in California.

Are there specific elements from the federal policy be at the federal budget or things that, that Secretary Fudge has said that you're particularly excited about and that you think municipalities should be keeping their eye on?

I've been doing public policy in the state for 30 years, and my background's in public health. What I know is that the sweet spot is the intersection with land use transportation and housing. The opportunity through some of this infrastructure with housing, as part of infrastructure connected to transportation and other community amenities is key and core to redefining and redesigning California. I am excited about that leadership. I see possibilities with Pete Buttigieg, who thinks outside the box.

Our hope is that the federal government will reimagine infrastructure with housing as a core element and focus those resources on people struggling the most with the lowest incomes, so that we're looking at keeping people in their homes with rental assistance and paying back-pay. We're thinking about getting people off the streets and their homes for, through our example of project Roomkey and Homekey. We want ot make sure we have homes for everyone in our community, especially those who have been priced out. We want long-term systems and structural reforms that connect the federal government and state government down to the localities to create transformative change.

You're speaking at the APA conference next week, to an audience of mainly local planners. What role do you see for them?

Land use reforms are key and core to everything that we do. We are thinking about them with a lot of intention, with fair housing at the forefront, about planning that keeps people in their communities, creates opportunities in high-resource areas, and also invests in low-resource areas. And that they're part of the conversations that happen with local jurisdictions, like a continuum of care that is bringing in public health. Sitting in these multi-sector tables to be thinking together, outside the box, about long-term change and how they can contribute.

David Zisser: I went to planning school, I worked with a lot of planners. And I think one thing we need to be more intentional about and some places do this better than others, of course, is, is really centering racial equity in a very real way. In part through the process we went through with the Roadmap Home, we got real specific in how we designed the policies with a racial equity lens. It was a helpful reminder that we're not going to get the racial equity outcomes we want without intentional design of your policies and your plans.

We want to make sure that planners, and whoever is thinking about this, is including people experiencing these inequities-- centering people, having them in conversations, not only talking about the problems, but also the solutions because they are closest to it. And that's a key part of right centering racial equity. One of the greatest things that our participants can do is really engage with the APA in an ongoing way around policy and to support support good bills. Planners' voices are so important to having really informed advocacy moving forward.

What message do you send to cities and even to planners that are reluctant to add housing or that don't currently consider equity to be a priority?

We dug deeply into the social and economic research around what narrative really resonates with folks who are not early adopters and reticent to moving this agenda forward. Part of it is everyone seeing themselves as a part of the solution. Oftentimes the loudest voices are those folks with money and who have held the power traditionally. The first thing we would do in this case is work with APA and with folks on the ground to start relationships and have conversations. We always want to start from a place of incentives and then talk about what happens if that doesn't happen. We have the economics research to show that if you do embrace racial and economic equity, you get better economic outcomes.

Gov. Newsom announced a budget that has quite a bit of money for housing for homeless on the order of $12 billion. How do you feel about that allocation or I guess, how do you feel about that number and how do you feel about how it's going to be allocated?

I've been doing public policy in the state for 30 years and I have never seen an investment of this level from the general fund. In fact, prior to Gavin Newsom I didn't even hear housing and homelessness discussed in the context of the state budget. As part of that investment, one-billion of those dollars is an annual investment in homelessness that goes to communities. That kind of commitment is enormous to us.

The $1.75 billion to put into the what they're calling the Accelerator Fund--which we saw as backlogged projects that needed resources to move--can move now. Then, there's money that is going into homelessness in an ongoing way. Local governments know they're going to have a more sustainable source that they are going to start investing and can stay the course. There's also money for preservation, which is huge. We know that there's a lot of naturally occurring affordable housing on the private market. If it is not held as affordable, it's going to be flipped into market rate. We'll lose those homes. People will be displaced, displaced that live in those communities. And that's really harmful. And then of course, we've got you know, the back pay for rent, that's being paired with federal dollars to help stabilize people and keep them where they are and help them move forward in meaningful ways.

So there's lots of important things moving, despite the pandemic, that is really helping to transform California, stabilize us at a very destabilizing time and brings hope for the future.

Conducted September 10, this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.