Ben Carson

HUD Secretary Ben Carson (left) talks with Dan Carroll, the pastor of Water of Life Community Church, during his visit to Fontana on Feb. 20.  (Herald News photo by Alejandro Cano)

United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson visited Fontana on Feb. 20 to tour the CityLink facility that is located within one of several “opportunity zones” in the city.

The opportunity zones offer investors tax breaks to invest in businesses or other ventures in areas that have the potential to spur economic development. Last December, President Trump signed an executive order to create a new White House Council to oversee the opportunity zones.

“The opportunity zone programs provide much needed capital to revitalize areas that would not otherwise be revitalized," Carson said. "As you start to see development, other people will come in."

The CityLink center is operated by Water of Life Community Church in Fontana, which receives grants from HUD to assist in preventing and eliminating homelessness in Fontana and surrounding communities, according to city staff.

Among the services offered include homeless prevention programs, emergency shelter and transitional housing; however, Fontana does not have homeless shelter facilities, said Martha Guzman Hurtado, a Fontana spokeswoman.

“Through the Emergency Services Grant provided by HUD, CityLink provides rent assistance to those in need,” she added.

The opportunity zones are identified by local elected officials. CityLink offers rent assistance, a food pantry, a thrifty store and a mobile clinic.

In an interview with the Herald News, Carson said that in order to solve homelessness, resources should be concentrated on the factors that are feeding the crisis.

Carson specifically blamed decades-old regulations for the high price of housing in California.

“We need to work together (federal and state lawmakers) in moving those regulations out of the way," said Carson.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently introduced his plan to fight homelessness. During his inauguration speech earlier this year, Newsom called for a "Marshall Plan" for affordable housing, saying “no one should live in constant fear of eviction."

“We have a homeless epidemic that should keep each and every one of us up at night," he said.

To help solve the issue, Newsom is setting a goal for 3.5 million new housing units in the state by 2025. This week he sent dozens of cities a notice to either build more affordable housing or potentially face the loss of funding for transportation projects raised through the state's gas tax. Fontana is not on Newsom's list.

Carson told the Herald News that he has not read Newsom’s plan, but he welcomed any effort to develop compassionate and logical programs that would elevate people into self-sufficiency.

The median home value in Fontana is $388,600, according to Zillow, the leading real estate and rental marketplace in the nation. Fontana home values have gone up 5.9 percent over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 4.1 percent within the next year.

According to John Husing, a research economist and vice president of Economics and Politics Inc., the Inland Empire region is receiving new residents who come from areas such as Los Angeles County and Orange County where home prices and rent prices have soared.

According to Husing, in the Inland Empire households would need an income of $77,330 to make $1,930 in monthly payments for a $362,500 house. However, the regional median income was just $62,300. To make matters worse, the average monthly rent for an apartment if $1,457, said Husing in his Quarterly Economic Report published last month.

Another factor that feeds homelessness is substance abuse, an issue Carson wants to resolve by identifying what pushed people into the problem in the first place. Carson told the Herald News that once you take these people off the streets, the real difficulty is how to stop them from going back out.

Carson said that each person who lives on the streets with drug and other abuse issues costs the nation about $33,000 to $44,000 a year in terms of them going to an emergency room and getting booked. He added that it costs the nation about $18,000 a year to house them.

Carson wants to also help veterans first by providing them housing and resources to avoid homelessness. Carson added that the number of homeless veterans went down by 5.4 percent last year.

“Not good enough. We are capable as a society of eliminating homelessness … veterans first,” said Carson.

The secretary also talked about helping homeless students back on their feet. He said that HUD last year provided $46 million for youth homelessness.

Prior to touring the facility, Carson was greeted by Mayor Acquanetta Warren and City Council members at Fontana City Hall. There, Carson listened to local elected officials, including Rep. Norma Torres, regarding several housing issues.

This was not the first time that Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has visited Fontana. In 2014, he spoke at Water of Life Church prior to becoming a presidential candidate. He eventually lost to Trump in the Republican primary.

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