Monday, June 24, 2024







        The more than 100 housing-related laws passed by legislators and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom since 2019 have done little or nothing to solve any of the three problems they were supposed to stem: availability, affordability and homelessness.


        That was the conclusion of the Superior Court judge who last spring ruled unconstitutional one of the most important of those new laws, the 2021 SB 9, which authorized homeowners in single family zoned (R1) neighborhoods to subdivide their lots and create six housing units where previously there was just one.


        Fewer than 2,000 such subdivisions have occurred since that law took effect, and even if they had become common, they would have done little about the problems they were supposed to alleviate.


        That’s because nothing in that law compels any subdividing homeowner or developer to make units affordable – another word for making them financially accessible to low-income folks (four-person households earning less than $114,000 per year, by one city’s standard). Or those spending more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent or mortgages, by another definition.


        Most of the currently homeless are unhoused because they fall into categories like those, so nothing in SB 9 ever figured to help them.


        Now comes a study showing more than half the homeless will soon be aged 50 or older, with the proportion of homeless over 65 due to triple between 2017 and 2030 unless something is done soon.


        For the state and its cities and counties, this turns out to be one of the most financially disastrous realities they could ever confront.


        Current law prevents emergency rooms from turning away anyone who needs help urgently, even if they have no insurance. The state and its local components end up footing those bills, costing billions of dollars. A single urgent care visit by an uninsured adult costs an average of slightly under $300, with adult homeless generally making multiple emergency visits yearly, the number increasing as they age.


        This makes the findings of the newest study of the homeless from the UC San Francisco Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative critically important for California, where budget constraints have already reduced average annual spending on homelessness.


        As the homeless population ages steadily, in part due to increasing rents and unavailability of low-cost homes in all size classes, and with the median home price in the state’s largest county now more than $980,000 – or more than $100,000 higher than one year ago – this problem can only grow worse.


        Said Margot Kushel MD, director of the Benioff program, “The dramatic rise in homelessness among older adults has severe consequences for the health and safety of those who experience it and (for) our society at large.”


        She urges quick action to prevent even more homelessness among the aging. This would not only be humane, she said, but also financially wise. The Benioff report, for example, says “adults experiencing homelessness in their 50s and 60s are similar in health status to people 20 years older in the general population.”


        In short, rapidly increasing older homeless will quickly translate into vastly larger public expenses for their medical care. Those expenses figure to continue longer than they would for younger homeless, because older homeless adults typically experience “prolonged episodes of homelessness,” the median length of their remaining unhoused now standing at 25 months, or just over two years.


        The report, based in part on 365 interviews with homeless individuals, showed older adults believe “modest” financial help, including housing choice vouchers and small subsidies like one-time payments that can get them into an apartment by funding security deposits, can help them become permanently housed.


        So the Benioff program recommends special attention to prevention efforts targeting at-risk seniors, expanding seniors’ access to health care before they become homeless – even if uninsured – and expanding outreach to homeless seniors well beyond today’s levels.


        All these things cost money, but allowing the senior homeless populace to keep expanding will clearly boost legally required spending on medical care even more. It’s a situation dramatically outlined in a slogan from 1990s era TV commercials for automotive oil filters: “You can pay me now (for prevention), or you can pay me later (much more).”


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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