Over the past two decades, California has experienced a surge in home and rental prices, resulting in a massive housing and homelessness crisis which the state has struggled to manage. In 2019 alone, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that there were about 50,000 homeless individuals living in L.A. County, and according to the New York Times, roughly 130,000 people in California were living without homes the year prior.

Many bills have been proposed over the years to address this problem, perhaps none as ambitious as Sen. Scott Wiener’s recent SB 50. The More HOMES Act would have allowed the state government to override local zoning laws in transit and single family zoning areas in order to allow developers to construct high-density, affordable housing. This bold attempt to ease California’s housing crisis would have created the opportunity for more affordable housing to be developed in urban areas, near work environments. 

However, the bill was met with intense – and predictable – opposition from homeowners across California, ultimately failing in the state senate last month. The stronghold of this opposition was located (oddly enough) in Los Angeles County. In fact, most of the county’s state senators overwhelmingly voted against the legislation, including Democratic senators Allen, Hertzberg, Stern, Mitchell, and Durazo. Those in opposition claimed that SB 50 would give too much power to the state, ultimately rewarding developers with more opportunities for luxury housing while not actually building affordable housing.

To L.A. and its state senators, if this bold approach is not the correct way to address homelessness throughout California, then what is? As Angelenos, my peers and I see this housing crisis walking through the streets of our city on a daily basis. After I graduate high school, I also plan to attend a university in California, and will surely have to face our state’s soaring housing prices in the near future.

How can we possibly fix a crisis that is quickly spiraling out of control if we keep crushing bold, progressive ideas like SB 50? Sometimes it seems we are really just gearing up for cruel, Giuliani-style criminalization of the homeless. The question we have to grapple with is whether we want to ease the housing crisis through new solutions like SB 50, or whether we only want to have the perception of clean streets while sending the homeless off to shelters or even out of our cities. 

California lawmakers must begin to enact legislation like Sen. Wiener’s SB 50 before this crisis becomes unmanageable – or propose more workable solutions in its place. I grew up under the impression that California is a progressive state which sets an example for the rest of the nation by adopting forward-thinking solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. This is a legacy we must honor and continue to live up to when considering this ongoing housing crisis.

Sam Wolf is a teen fellow at the Jewish Center for Justice and a junior at Beverly Hills High School.

(Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)