My Response to the Grand Jury Report on Housing Orange County’s Homeless: Irvine Offers Leadership in Providing Real Solutions for the Homelessness Crisis

Finding solutions to the homelessness crisis has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

At our recent Irvine City Council meeting on August 26, 2018, the City Council was presented with our city staff’s response to the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox preparing to lead a meeting of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Following the staff presentation, I made the following remarks, which I’d like to share with you here:

“Thank you very much for a terrific response.

I did feel that there needs to be some additional information in the response, however, and Mayor Wagner touched on much of it, in particular the $29.2 million that we’re putting aside, as well as land, and the additional permanent supportive housing, potentially as many as 80 units, which we are set to break ground on in the very near future with the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In addition, there’s another project stacked right behind the first project for the Land Trust, which will be unique in that it will provide an ownership for affordable housing, and all of this backed by services, so we will be creating permanent, supportive housing.

Irvine has been a model in this area, and what I think the Grand Jury, and even our own response misses, is that the Land Trust concept is something that Irvine has pioneered.

No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours. Our executive director is a national leader, and we have a great deal of experience in the Land Trust area, so I think what we have best to contribute to the ACC-OC (Association of California Cities – Orange County) and a potential Joint Powers Agreement is leadership.

In Irvine, we don’t need an additional Land Trust.  We already have one, and we paved the way, and we already have a vehicle to receive the funds that are ready to come forward from the State. The reason that the Joint Powers Agreement for a Land Trust for the County needed to be created is that the County didn’t have one.  In Irvine, we already did.

And so I would notify, and let the Grand Jury know, that we could be of assistance and leadership in this area.  Our executive director for the Irvine Community Land Trust, Mark Asturias, is an executive director of the national Land Trust Alliance, and so he’s leading the way.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox speaking with homeless people at the former Riverbed encampment with Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva, Huntington Beach Councilmember Billy O’Connell, and Santa Ana Councilmember Michele Martinez.

I also want to comment on the allegation of NIMBYism in Irvine, which I thought was very pejorative and unfair.

Irvine has never said we don’t want to help homeless people in our community. Rather, we’ve said we’ll be the first to form this Land Trust and move forward with it.

So just last year, Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris and I traveled with ACC-OC to San Antonio to look at what was really an exceptional program (Haven for Hope) helping the homeless community in San Antonio that has been held up as a model.  We went with many other stakeholders. One thing we learned on that trip was that neighbors are important.  And it was very important for the success of this homeless shelter in San Antonio to be located in a community that their services also served, to prevent the community members from becoming homeless.  So the shelter has to be located in an area where the neighborhood is receptive, and sees it as a benefit because they’re providing social services to the neighborhood, they’re providing schooling, they’re providing medical clinics, they’re providing dental services, and so on.

Location is very important, and what we heard our residents in Irvine saying is that there was a problem with placing homeless people in tents adjacent to the Great Park as proposed by the Board of Supervisors.  And, in addition, what Irvine residents and the Irvine City Council said is that human beings should not be housed in tents with no water, no electricity, and no transportation.

So, I think to denigrate Irvine and the residents who came together as not compassionate and full of NIMBY sentiment is absolutely incorrect, and we need to put forward that our residents came together, not only to say that they were opposed to the County’s tent city plan for a homeless shelter, but they literally hired their own attorneys to put together solution packages, and they came to the same conclusions that the experts did, that you must have permanent supportive services that go along with the housing.

They weren’t just saying we don’t want it here, they said we want to help fix this program, and I think we can reach out to that same group to work with us on this issue.

I have also traveled to Sacramento and worked with many of our legislators to increase the number of units that we can move forward with under the Land Trust by creating legislation (Senate Bill 1056) that would give us favorable tax treatment.

And so I think we have a lot to teach the cities that haven’t done this kind of work.  We blazed that path, and I’d like this report to make that clear, especially the work that the Irvine Community Land Trust has done, that prior city councils have invested in this, and that the Mayor himself has expended countless hours in looking forward to a solution, and I think that at the very least, the Mayor’s comments should be incorporated as a preface to our response.”

You can read the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless,” and the original proposed response of the City of Irvine here.

 

My Trip to Sacramento to Advocate for OC Cities and Affordable Housing

I recently joined other Orange County elected officials on the annual Local Government Advocacy Trip to Sacramento with the Association of California Cities — Orange County (ACC-OC), meeting with state elected officials, department directors, and executive staff to advocate for positions on bills, discuss  Orange County’s regional priorities, and represent the voice of Orange County cities.

Among the issues we discussed were building more affordable housing, increased regulation and better supervision of sober living homes, solutions for homelessness, and reforms of the sales tax.

Among the state officials and legislators that I met with were California State Controller Betty T. Yee, Board of Estimate Member Fiona Ma, Senator Jim Beall (Chair, Senate Housing Committee), Senator John Moorlach (37th Senate District, which includes portions of Orange County), Senator Steve Glazier (Senate Committee on Jobs and Economic Development), Senator Scott Weiner (Senate Housing Committee), Assemblymember David Chiu (Assembly Housing Committee), and Susan Bransen (Executive Director, California Transportation Commission).

Melissa Fox with Dirissy Doan (Orange County Assn of Realtors) and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D- AD 65) in Sacramento.

Following the ACC-OC trip, I remained in Sacramento to attend the Housing California Annual Conference and to meet with legislators on behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust, of which I am the Vice Chair.

The Irvine Community Land Trust (ICTL) was created by the City of Irvine to provide secure, high-quality affordable housing through the operation of a non-profit community land trust, securing and retaining title to land on which permanently affordable rental, ownership and special needs housing will be constructed and maintained for the benefit of income-eligible families.

The vision of the ICLT is that by the year 2025, the ICLT will have created approximately 5,000 units of permanently affordable housing in the City of Irvine, contributing more than 50 percent of the City’s 2025 goal of 9,700 affordable units. In addition, the ICLT will conduct a monitoring program and provide stewardship for these units, insuring high-quality construction, design, sustainability, maintenance and permanent affordability. ICLT will achieve self-sufficiency by ensuring that fees and other earned income are sufficient to support the organization’s ongoing operating costs.

On behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust, I meet with Senator Janet Nguyen, Senator Ricardo Lara, Senator John Moorlach, Senator Jim Beall, Senator Bob Hertzberg, Assembly Member Steven Choi, Assembly Member Matt Harper, and Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva about legislation to make it easier to build more affordable housing.

I believe we are making significant progress in creating a more supportive legislative environment for building affordable housing.  Everyone I spoke to in Sacramento — on both sides of the aisle — is keenly aware of California’s severe housing shortage and our state’s growing housing insecurity and homelessness crisis.

I was happy to work with my colleagues in both the ACC-OC and the Irvine Community Land Trust to advocate for legislative reforms that will make it easier to build affordable housing in California, and specifically in Orange County.