In the past week, bettors placed an estimated $23 billion on the Super Bowl.
It’s a staggering amount of money by any estimation, and with 68 million Americans participating in wagers ranging from the outcome of the game to the coin flip and the time it takes to sing the national anthem, there’s no question that many of us are more than willing to put our mouth where our money is when it comes to just about anything if there’s a chance of winning.
But while the true gambler is one who isn’t afraid to risk it all with the hope of bigger gains, most people tend to hedge their bets pretty quickly when the predicted outcome is a little murky.
In some ways, this upcoming year will be a referendum on our ballots about what bets we are willing to make when it comes to addressing affordable housing and homelessness. And as opposed to putting more money in the pot, some folks are just talking about reshuffling the deck as the best way to get the cards we really want on the table.
Proposition 1 — paradoxically named “Treatment Not Tents” — falls into this line of thinking. Endorsed by a broad coalition of supporters, the March proposition primarily proposes to issue a $6.4 billion bond backed by existing revenues from the Mental Health Services Act of 2004. These funds will, in turn, be used to create supportive housing settings where over 11,000 Californians with the severest mental health needs can live, recover, stabilize and thrive.
Adding these beds to our inventory is absolutely a necessary goal, but the sleight of hand here is that while we’re collecting our chips for housing and treatment, Prop. 1 takes that same money from our local services stack. And with far less money available to pay for the people and services needed to help the folks living at these new sites, you have to wonder what the next trick will have to be to pay for it all.
With less magic and more muscle, another piece of legislation — The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act — is gaining steam right now, as well. This new initiative aims to reform parts of Proposition 47, a measure approved by California voters in 2014 as part of a larger effort to reduce the costs of prison overcrowding.
Advocates argue that the new reforms will give prosecutors and judges more discretion in dealing with crime, which will result in reductions in drug addiction, homelessness, and retail theft. And while GOP-leaders and Bay Area mayors seemed to be aligned in their support for the necessity of these changes, the initiative is silent on how we will pay for the treatment and services that will be mandated to keep low-level offenders off the streets and out of jail.
But unlike the redistribution of money in Prop. 1, this measure clearly calls for more support to help the people that need it without at all showing us where this new funding will come from. And, moreover, when you conflate homelessness, drug addiction, and theft without clearly being able to articulate your plan to create the resources necessary deal with each of those unique instances separately, you’re doing nothing more than digging an even bigger hole.
That’s why I’m following the smart money first this year. Why not play the “house way” by backing the odds by putting more money into the production and preservation of deeply-affordable housing that has already returned so much? The California Affordable Housing Bond Act and the Bay Area Housing for All Regional Bond represent the potential of $20 billion in new funding that will create tens of thousands of homes for families, elders, formerly homeless adults and children, veterans, and so many others in need of stability.
The measures should appear on the November ballot, and if they do, support for both bonds is as close as you will get on a sure thing as far as returns are concerned.
We’ve seen consistently with local sources like the Santa Clara County Affordable Housing Bond (2016) and San Jose’s Measure E (2020) that more money means more housing. With willing and coordinated government partners, strong affordable housing developers, committed nonprofit and business organizations, and the legislative tools to get housing approved faster than ever before, we can be assured that all that is needed now is more investment to yield homes that will keep our residents safe and secure for the future.
The bottom line is that we need to bring money to the table to win when it comes to ending and preventing homelessness. And anyone suggesting otherwise simply isn’t playing the odds.
San José Spotlight columnist Ray Bramson is the Chief Operating Officer at Destination: Home, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness in Silicon Valley. His columns appear every second Monday of the month. Contact Ray at [email protected] or follow @rbramson on X, formerly known as Twitter.