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Audit: California overlooked potential affordable housing sites – Courthouse News Service

A process for reviewing surplus state property for affordable housing was flawed but more effective than the status quo.
(CN) — As San Francisco considers a proposal to shelter its entire homeless population, a state audit found Tuesday that a California agency overlooked potential affordable housing sites that could help alleviate the state’s crushing housing crisis.
In 2019, then-newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order requiring that surplus state-owned property be prioritized as possible sites for affordable housing. The Department of General Services (DGS) identified 92 suitable parcels and has moved forward with plans to convert 19 of them into housing, which could create more than 1,700 new affordable housing units.
But a state auditor’s report issued Tuesday found DGS failed to communicate with certain state entities, such as the University of California and California State University, that are not directly controlled by the executive branch.
“Contacting these and other agencies regarding potentially viable parcels it identified during its review may allow DGS to identify additional affordable housing possibilities,” the report states.
A three-and-a-half month time constraint likely made it harder for the department to accomplish its goal of finding all suitable properties, the state auditor found. Still, the audit faulted the department for not following up on four identified properties that could still be converted into housing.
Citing insufficient staff at DGS, the report estimated it will take the department seven years to move forward with 73 other surplus state properties that could provide an additional 30,000 new affordable housing units.
Additionally, the state auditor concluded Newsom’ executive order has been more effective at identifying excess state land that could be turned into homes for low-income residents. From 2010 to 2020, only seven of 64 properties disposed of by DGS through an existing process were used for affordable housing, despite a state law saying that affordable housing construction should be the preferred use for those sites
To ensure a more effective method for reviewing surplus state land is used in the future, the audit recommends passing a state law that would mandate those assessments occur periodically. Newsom’s 2019 executive order was a one-shot deal and did not require regular reviews of excess state property.
“Our audit also found that, without changes to state law, California may lose the executive order’s focus on affordable housing creation,” acting California State Auditor Michael Tilden wrote in a letter to the governor and state lawmakers Tuesday.
The Department of General Services and Governor Newsom’s office did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday morning.
A spokesperson for state Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who has pushed forward multiple pieces of legislation focused on combatting the state’s housing crisis, said the senator had no comment on the audit’s legislative recommendation.
Meanwhile, government officials in San Francisco are floating a revived proposal to provide shelter for an estimated 5,000 people who lack homes and regularly sleep outdoors in the oceanside city.
San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the city’s Castro District, is proposing A Place for All plan. Critics had argued a previous version of Mandelman’s plan relied too heavily on safe sleeping sites, or tent villages that provide security, bathrooms and other services at a cost of about $60,000 per tent annually — far more than it costs to rent an average one-bedroom apartment in the city.
The revamped proposal will require at least half of new shelter units be sites with private rooms. Safe sleeping sites with tents would make up no more than 20% of the new shelter options.
In addition to tent sites, shelter options could include hotel rooms and tiny homes. The city recently opened its first village of shed-like duplexes in which previously homeless individuals live in rooms with 64 square feet of space. Each room includes a bed, desk, chair, heating and a door that locks.
At least 161,000 people in California lack permanent housing with the largest concentration of homeless people living in Los Angeles, according to a January 2020 count.
The state invested $10.3 billion in affordable housing last year. Newsom has proposed adding another $1.5 billion in his 2022-2023 budget plan with a focus on building more housing in and near downtown areas to help cut carbon emissions from long car commutes and to move home construction away rural areas that are more susceptible to wildfires.
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