Q&A with Tomiquia Moss, Incoming Secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency
February 5, 2024
Prior to All Home, Moss was CEO at Hamilton Families, served under the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, spearheaded the HOPE SF Initiative, and was the founding project director of the San Francisco Community Justice Center of the Superior Court of California.
In 2022, Moss was appointed as a member of the California Interagency Council on Homelessness and is president of the board of directors for the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California.
We had the privilege of hearing from Moss regarding her new role, what led to the successes she has overseen at All Home and her insight regarding the continuum of issues that lead to homelessness.
First, tell us more about your new role as Secretary of the state Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which is responsible for managing the state housing department and many of California’s homelessness prevention programs. Why did you take this job, and what do you hope to accomplish?
BCSH touches the lives of virtually every Californian, whether they know it or not. The agency has broad responsibility for the issues I’ve been working on throughout my career, including housing, homelessness, and civil rights. Its departments also protect consumers from fraud and discrimination, and oversee a number of industries and businesses.
I’ve seen over the years how important the State’s role is to bring us together around solutions and provide resources to solve the tough problems we face. So when the Governor’s Office approached me about this opportunity, I couldn’t turn it down. This is a chance to lead change that can positively impact our entire state, and I’m excited to see what’s possible.
One thing I hope to accomplish regarding homelessness and housing is to ensure local partners know what outcomes we’re driving towards, and continue to provide the support—not just the financial resources—that it will take to achieve them.
I’ll also be looking for efficiencies within the areas of work that BCSH oversees. Especially in the context of a budget deficit, it’s important to do as much as we can to ensure the programs and resources we already have work as well as possible for the people who rely on them.
Before moving into state government, you founded an organization, All Home, that helped develop a regional plan in 2021 for reducing homelessness by 75% across the nine-county Bay Area. What do you see as the key to this plan’s success, and how has its progress been so far?
The most important part of the Regional Action Plan is the 1-2-4 Framework for Homelessness Solutions. It seeks to align jurisdictions around a comprehensive strategy of concurrent investments in three types of solutions. For every one investment in interim housing units, there should be at least two investments in permanent housing solutions and at least four homelessness prevention interventions. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. More important than the exact ratio, which will vary across counties and communities according to their local needs and circumstances, is the importance of concurrent investments in all three interventions.
Obviously, the Bay Area has not reduced unsheltered homelessness by 75 percent in the time since the Regional Action Plan came out. But we still believe that the strategy laid out in the plan would move us in that direction if every jurisdiction in the region leaned into making simultaneous investments at scale in interim housing, permanent housing, and homelessness prevention. Later this year, All Home will be releasing a RAP update with some new tools to help local partners analyze their progress and better understand what it will take to achieve that reduction in unsheltered homelessness that we all want to see.
What do you see as the state’s role in supporting regional plans like you helped develop in the Bay Area for addressing homelessness? Is there more the state can do than just offer financial support?
Yes, as I mentioned above, making sure our local partners know what success looks like in our efforts to address homelessness is a top priority for me. And in addition to the considerable financial resources the state provides, it can—and does— offer strategic guidance to get there. There’s so much good work being done, there are plenty of bright spots and success stories from local partners that the state could lift up for others to emulate.
Right now the state is bringing a lot of funding to the table, and local governments have the expertise and the infrastructure to make a difference on the ground. The State should be as collaborative as possible, and look for new ways to work with local partners. We need a shared vision and a sense of mutual accountability and urgency to deliver the outcomes — not just the outputs or activity— that the public expects. For example, we need accountability metrics that will narrow the racial disparities in who experiences homelessness, since we know that Black Californians are vastly overrepresented.
There are a lot of great plans out there to address homelessness, at all levels of government. It’s time we start implementing them with more urgency and political will than we’ve yet seen.
Throughout your career supporting vulnerable populations and unhoused residents, you’ve emphasized the need to address the whole continuum of issues that lead to homelessness— from cycles of poverty to severe housing shortages. How does permanent supportive housing fit into this approach, and how can groups like Eden work with local leaders to promote investments along the entire continuum?
Permanent supportive housing is the gold standard to help people who are chronically homeless—living on the street for more than a year—to stabilize, get healthy, and improve their lives. It’s vital that it work well and that we create more of it.
That said, both the placement process and the funding structures for PSH lead to situations where the majority of residents have very low incomes and very high needs. And the “permanent” means that some people will age in place and require more physical and medical assistance as they do. This puts a lot of pressure on even the most trained, caring staff.
Groups like Eden can lead and encourage honest conversations about the complexities and importance of PSH. Imagine how funding mechanisms or housing placement systems could work better for PSH residents and staff, and propose solutions. PSH operators should also advocate for rental assistance and housing vouchers, so that PSH residents who have stabilized and gotten solidly back on their feet can afford to move into independent situations and free up those PSH units. Educate our decision-makers about the need for more and better solutions for a range of individual needs and circumstances, so that people can move from one stage to the next seamlessly with the appropriate level of support.
One case in point: The San Jose Mercury News recently published a story raising questions about Homekey, one of the state’s biggest COVID-era homelessness initiatives. The program has funded more than 14,000 units of homeless housing through the rapid conversion of hotels and motels, but it is still struggling to place people in permanent housing, while wrestling with the high cost of maintaining these properties. What do you think can be done to help programs like Homekey address the whole continuum of vulnerable Californians’ housing needs? And what can Eden do to help?
First of all, I just want to say that Homekey has been crucial to rapidly bring more units of desperately needed affordable housing online. It’s proof that when we treat unsheltered homelessness like the crisis that it is, as we did during the pandemic, we can do big things that reduce unsheltered homelessness and have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. I have no doubt that without Homekey, things would have been far worse for people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
But as any operator of permanent supportive housing knows, bringing the units online is just the first step, and supporting the high-needs neighbors who move into these places is intense work. As I said earlier, it takes social workers trained to deal with mental health and substance use issues, case managers and housing navigators.
Regionalism isn’t just about geography, it’s about coordinating among cities, counties, developers, and nonprofits, so that all the right actors are playing all the right parts.
Ultimately, we do need a sustained funding strategy to provide supportive services to our most vulnerable neighbors for as long as they need it. We’re not set up for that right now, but we need to be figuring out how to get there. Homelessness is a five-alarm fire, and everybody with a role to play needs to start acting like it.
So I’m glad you asked what Eden can do. And before I answer that, I just want to acknowledge how hard your staff works and how much they are already doing. So I’m not asking anybody to burn themselves out, but I do think we need to start trying new things if we’re going to actually turn this crisis around—especially those of us in leadership roles, or who are influencing strategy, resource allocation, or processes. We need to take healthy risks, tell the truth, make new partnerships, be bolder. That’s certainly what I’ll be challenging myself to do in my new role. And finally, the staff and residents of Eden and other affordable housing providers need to share more of their stories and experiences as they advocate. That’s what will make the most compelling case for more funding, and for change where it’s needed.