By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – California Governor Gavin Newsom, stepping up his bid to enlist U.S. government help to combat homelessness, has urged the Trump administration to open up surplus federal property for construction of more low-cost housing across the state.
Newsom’s request came in a letter on Tuesday to U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, who rejected pleas from California in September for more money to fight homelessness but has since adopted a more cooperative stance on the issue.
The governor, a first-term Democrat who has placed homelessness at the top of his agenda, said his administration already had moved to turn over excess state-owned land to cities and counties for the purpose of building affordable housing.
“You could match our commitment by similarly providing free surplus federal land to local governments across the state so they can build housing for the homeless,” Newsom wrote.
“Emergency shelter solves sleep, and we agree this is an urgent priority,” the governor added. “But only housing and services solve homelessness.”
Newsom’s office referred questions about the scope of the government’s excess lands to HUD. Agency officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
A HUD tally published last month put California’s homeless population at more than 151,000, up 16 percent from the year before and the highest of any state. California is the nation’s most populous state, with some 39.6 million residents.
Newsom’s appeal came nearly two weeks after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed a joint letter to Carson and President Donald Trump seeking federal assistance in tackling homelessness in the nation’s second-largest city.
The latest pleas, and recent expressions of support from Carson on Twitter, signaled a new tone of collaboration following a period of harsh finger-pointing between officials in California and the Trump administration over homelessness.
Newsom last year directed officials in Sacramento to identify excess state lands for the purpose of building affordable housing units. Of 1,300 sites found potentially suitable, fewer than 100 properties ultimately met all the necessary criteria and were approved for development, Jacob Roper, spokesman for California’s Government Operations Agency, said on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Newsom called on state lawmakers to create a $750 million fund to provide housing and services for people on the streets. He proposed $695 million in additional spending to improve medical care and mental health treatment for the homeless.
He also ordered mobile trailers and modular tent structures set up across the state to provide temporary shelter and healthcare services to the poor.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Peter Cooney)