One Year Later, Newsom’s Tiny Homes for California Homeless Still Remain Vacant

By: Beth Moreton | Last updated: Jul 03, 2024

In March 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom promised 1200 tiny homes for the homeless amidst an ongoing homelessness crisis in the Golden State.

However, one year after this promise was made, things have changed. Construction of the homes only started in March 2024, with many still being unfinished. With construction not expected to finish until the fall, people are still none the wiser about what is going on with this project.

Baby Boomers Most Likely to Be Homeless

Out of all of the current generations, Baby Boomers are the most likely to be homeless. These people were born toward the end of World War II and the middle half of the 1960s.

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A homeless person on the street with a cardboard sign up.

Source: Ev/Unsplash

This is due to them having gone through several recessions, which caused them to use up their savings and, in some cases, lose their jobs. This has seen a rise from 10% of homeless Americans being over 50 years of age to 37%. 

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Homeless Population in California Given $750 a Month

On top of the promise of small houses, California’s homeless population has been given $750 per month as part of universal basic income for one year. This was given to 100 people in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles County areas.

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Homeless tents out on the street.

Source: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

They spent this money on food, accommodation, transport, clothes and other unidentified expenses. This is in comparison to the people who thought they would spend the money on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. 

1200 Tiny Homes to Be Built in California

In March 2023, Newsom announced his plans to build 1,200 tiny homes across California in the hope that many homeless people would be able to temporarily live there and get on their feet before moving to somewhere more permanent.

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The inside of one of California’s tiny homes. There is a bed, desk, chair, lamp, mirror and rug.

Source: @designboom/X

The plan is to build them across four different jurisdictions. 350 will be built in Sacramento, 500 in Los Angeles, 200 in San Jose and 150 in San Diego County.

A Tiny-Home Community

The whole point of building these tiny homes in four different regions is to create a sense of community. This is to try and help those who will be living there find some sort of stability.

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Two rows of tiny white homes on either side of a blue walkway.

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Included in these tiny homes will be kitchens, dining and living rooms, common areas, and cabins for counseling.

California’s Tiny Homes Have Been Delayed

When the proposals were announced, it was initially hoped the houses would be built and ready by the summer, with fall 2023 being the absolute latest they would be ready.

The inside of one of the tiny homes. It has a bed, desk, chair, lamp and rug.

Source: @designboom/X

However, this hasn’t happened. Over a year after the homes were announced, they still haven’t been built, and the date of completion has been estimated for fall 2024. There is still a possibility of some pushbacks to these dates.

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Tiny Homes Not Ready Until 2025

However, not all of the tiny homes will be done by 2024. San Jose has predicted that its tiny home site will not be open until July 2025.

A white tiny home outside a building with a blue poster on the side.

@HousingTrustVC/X

This is the only solution the Mayor, Matt Mahan, could devise that was much faster and lower cost than any of the other alternatives.

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Unknown Reasons for Delays

With all these delays, many are wondering what is causing them. The state government is blaming the local government, and the local government is blaming the state government. This is at a point where no one really knows what is going on.

A homeless man in a train station holding up a sign that says, “Seeking human kindness.”

Source: Matt Collamer/Unsplash

Some of the reasons claimed to be behind why there have been delays include the state not properly funding the homes and local cities and counties being unable to find areas to put the houses. 

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A Timeline Shouldn’t Be Adhered To

Monica Hassan, the Department of General Services deputy director, has said there shouldn’t be any criticism regarding the tiny homes’ failure to be built within the initial timeline.

A black and white image of a homeless man with a suitcase next to him. It has a sign on top that says, "Hungry, anything helps."

Steve Knutson/Unsplash

She has said that doing so diminishes the hard work of the people dedicated to making these tiny homes happen.

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California Has the Highest Rates of Homelessness

This will come as bad news to the homeless community in California, as the Golden State currently has the highest rates of homelessness across the US.

A homeless person sleeping on a mattress with a blue blanket wrapped over them on the street.

Jon Tyson/Unsplash

The homes are meant to address this homelessness crisis, but so far, they seem to be doing the opposite. With the homeless number not going down, the lack of tiny homes means more people are going without shelter each day.

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The California Homeless Population Is Growing

The homeless population in California only continues to grow. It currently has one-third of the entire homeless population across the whole of the US and is 6% higher than it was in 2023.

A homeless person sleeping on a flat piece of cardboard on the street.

Jon Tyson/Unsplash

Newsom has also been criticized for not keeping records of how the money has been spent. While there are predictions as to how much has been spent, no one knows the exact number or where exactly this money has gone.

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Tiny Homes Take 90 Minutes to Build

What makes the delays in building the tiny homes even more confusing is that they only take 90 minutes, which is a fraction of the time it takes to build other buildings.

A row of tiny homes with a person walking past carrying a scooter.

Source: @SaulGonzalezCA/X

This is so state and local governments can quickly move the homeless out of encampments and into tiny homes. Federal courts made this a legal requirement, stating that cities can only clear homeless encampments if they have some form of shelter for them to go to. 

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New Products Have Had To Be Designed

Newsom has set very strict requirements for what these tiny homes can and cannot include. Because of this, companies must design and create products from the beginning.

An aerial view of four rows of white tiny homes.

@NotAnotherTip/X

This is one thing adding to the delay. Other products that have had to be created include vapor-resistant light fixtures and emergency exit lighting.

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Cities Don’t Have Enough Money for the Houses

When the plans were first announced, the state was to buy and deliver the units. However, this has since changed to the state sending money to the cities for them to buy their own units.

A homeless person sleeping on the street with a large piece of red plastic wrapped around them.

Source: Frederick Lee/Unsplash

This has created a few problems. For example, some places have not received enough money to buy the units. San Jose was given $13.3 million; however, it needed $22.7 million to buy enough homes for 200 people. 

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Cities Have a Funding Gap

Another issue for the cities being sent the money is that they now have a funding gap. This could cause many more issues later on.

A glass jar with silver coins inside and a green plant growing out of it.

Towfiqu Barbhuiya/Unsplash

Funding gaps will only further delay the tiny homes project, which has painted Newsom in a bad light as he hasn’t been able to provide a promise that still has no end in sight.

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$1 Billion Spent on Tiny Homes

It has been estimated that the plan to build tiny homes will cost the California government $1 billion.

A pile of $100 notes.

Giorgio Trovato/Unsplash

This funding will be used to build, deliver, and install tiny homes throughout California, but this is yet to happen.

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The Homeless and Mental Health

One of Newsom’s other plans to tackle the homelessness crisis involved mental health, which is something he came under fire over from mental health professionals.

A homeless person sitting by some railings with a dog wrapped up in a red blanket on their lap.

Source: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Between $2 and $3 billion are spent every year under the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) to help California’s residents with mental health issues. However, Newsom wants to spend 60% of these funds on the homeless, with professionals worried this could affect existing services.

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A Free Food Market for the Homeless

Further plans for helping the homeless include a $5.5 million taxpayer-funded initiative to give them a free food market.

A fruit and vegetable stall at a food market.

Jacopo Maia/Unsplash

The market has been created to help the homeless in San Francisco so they don’t have to worry about the rising cost of food. While they are already given food stamps, this food market is set to give them further help.

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Traffic Lights Have Had To Be Removed

In another turn of events, some traffic lights have had to be removed in Oakland, California, due to some homeless people stealing the copper from the lights.

A red stop sign at an intersection with a fire truck driving past it.

@NahBabyNah/X

Doing this caused the lights to stop working, which became a danger to those traveling through the four-way traffic lights, and there were many near misses.

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Businesses Aren’t Getting Any Orders

Some businesses have been approved to help with the project, including Irontown Modular, one of six vendors who will supply the tiny homes to each city.

Rows of blue and green tiny homes next to some trees.

Source: @SaulGonzalezCA/X

However, as of May 2024, the company hasn’t received any orders. While they could complain from a business perspective, Kam Valgardson, the company’s general manager, has said that the main people being failed here are the homeless. 

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Tiny Home Locations Have Been Moved

Another issue with the tiny homes is that the original locations that were announced have been moved.

The inside of one of the tiny homes. It has a bed with blue bedding, windows and an air vent.

Source: @SaulGonzalezCA/X

The homes were announced at the Cal Expo in Sacramento, where the homes were meant to be built. However, this plan has since changed, with the homes scheduled to be built on Stockton Boulevard and Watt Avenue. 

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Finding the Perfect Tiny Home Site

There are issues elsewhere as well with finding a site that is good enough for the tiny homes. The site for the San Diego County tiny homes has been proposed to be in the Spring Valley.

A white tiny home with the door open and a chair outside.

@ahartreports/X

However, before this can be done, the soil needs to be tested, and the site needs to be made safe. Once this has been done, they need to get community feedback on the project before the building can commence.

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Commercial and Industrial Areas To Be Used

The current plan is to use commercial and industrial areas that remain unused for these tiny homes. However, as has already been seen, there is still some doubt as to where these areas will actually be.

The inside of a tiny home with a single bed, set of drawers, lamp, and a desk.

@ahartreports/X

As the areas also have to be tested to ensure they are safe and get approval from the local community, this takes time and could delay the tiny homes from being built even further.

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Tiny Homes Have Been Around for Years

Newsom’s idea for tiny homes isn’t a new one, as they have been around for years. Between 2021 and 2024, San Jose installed around 500 tiny homes at the south end of the San Francisco Bay area.

The outside of one of the tiny homes in California. It has a window on either side of the door and other tiny homes surrounding it.

Source: @SaulGonzalezCA/X

The use of tiny homes has been proven to reduce the amount of unsheltered homeless people in cities. All the state government needs to do now is find the funds and push for these homes to be built for the benefit of the homeless and cities in California alike. 

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