Trump administration rejects California request for homeless funds

LOS ANGELES, Sept 18 (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Wednesday rejected requests from California for more money from Washington to fight homelessness, opening another front in the battle between the White House and the state’s Democratic-led progressive government.

“The Trump administration is doing its part,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson wrote in a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and local officials, and added: “California needs to address the obvious local issues within its control to help address this catastrophe.”

Newsom and other Democratic elected officials - including the mayors of California’s largest cities - wrote to President Donald Trump this week asking for more federal funds to expand programs to provide stable living environments for the homeless.

Carson said Trump had asked him to respond on his behalf to say no.

“Your letter seeks federal dollars for California from hardworking American taxpayers but fails to admit that your State and local policies have played a major role in the current crisis,” he said.

Since Trump was elected president in 2016, California state officials have filed dozens of lawsuits over the administration’s actions on a host of issues, including immigration, healthcare and the environment.

On Wednesday, the two sides went to war over who should set U.S. standards for vehicle emissions and electric cars, the first feint in what is sure to be a long legal battle over issues that will affect the auto industry and consumers nationwide.

Trump, who was in California this week for a series of fundraisers for his 2020 re-election campaign, has criticized the homelessness problem in the Democratic strongholds of California’s biggest cities.

In his letter, Carson said an over-regulated housing market in California had reduced the stock of affordable housing and its policies undercut the ability of police to remove homeless encampments. California’s policy on giving sanctuary to illegal immigrants was adding to the problem, he said.

130,000 HOMELESS

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday from a newly created refuge for homeless people that the facility showed the kind of work that was under way in the city to help the unsheltered.

“It’s no secret that I have disagreed with you on almost everything Mr. President, but if you are in your heart willing to save lives alongside us, we know what works here,” Garcetti said in the video.

Representatives for Newsom could not immediately be reached for comment.

The governor’s office earlier this week said he had made housing affordability a chief priority, committing $1.75 billion to the creation of new housing and encouraging or forcing cities to approve new home construction.

An annual census released in June by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) showed the homeless population has increased by 16 percent in the past year in the city, the nation’s second-largest.

An estimated 130,000 people are homeless in California as a whole on any given day, more than any other state, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Homeless advocates have cited low housing vacancy as a main contributor to homelessness. The Los Angeles metropolitan area has a roughly 4 percent vacancy rate, one of the nation’s lowest, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Los Angeles County officials on Tuesday took action that aligns with one of Carson’s recommendations, which was to give police more power to clear homeless encampments.

The board of supervisors voted to join a legal challenge to a federal appeals court ruling that bars cities from arresting or citing homeless people for camping on sidewalks unless officials can offer shelter for all of them. (Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sonya Hepinstall)