Daily Breeze (Torrance)
Throwing money won’t make LA affordable
With even iconic Venice Beach covered with tents and ravaged by skyrocketing crime, Los Angeles is home to the nation’s largest unsheltered homeless population. While there’s an obvious need for action, mayor Eric Garcetti’s announced plans to spend $1 billion this year to combat homelessness and L.A.’s affordable housing shortage show he believes indiscriminately shoveling money at the situation will make it better.
We’ve seen how Los Angeles manages money. Projects financed with the $1.2 billion Measure HHH were as expensive as $700,000 per unit, nearly 50% more than the city’s median condominium price, to build just 7,460 units of public housing. The city estimates a 509,000 affordable housing unit shortfall. He also plans to implement a guaranteed income program, open to undocumented immigrants, hoping cash can overcome the overregulation that bloats our cost of living. But what’s most absurd about this plan isn’t the ludicrous price tag, or its vision for basic guaranteed income — it’s how the plan will worsen LA’s affordability and homelessness crises.
Because the cost of housing isn’t the only cost of living, building public housing in expensive communities like West L.A. won’t help our disadvantaged get back on their feet. Where the cost of housing is high, so are the financial and human capital requirements to work and live. Building shelters and public housing in expensive districts makes transitioning from poverty to normal life almost impossible. Lowskill jobs like stocking shelves simply can’t cover the rent.
Garcetti seems to have a response to this shortcoming in his guaranteed income program, but that’s an empty promise which may even increase the cost of living even further. With onerous regulations constricting supply of goods and services, and with guaranteed income projected to increase demand, his program will likely make the city even more unaffordable.
Even if it feels right, handing out cash and hosting impoverished populations in wealthy communities won’t help anyone — it’ll disincentivize our poor from going where low-skill wages can meet their living costs. Even worse, it’ll create a permanent underclass increasingly reliant on government subsidies and welfare to survive.
Most ridiculous of all, however, is how Garcetti fails to understand that pouring money into homeless services and benefits attracts homeless people from across the country. The federal government estimates each homeless individual costs municipalities $40,000 per year, which is why towns across America opt to buy their homeless oneway bus tickets to cities like L.A. where services are plentiful. Just as building more freeway lanes makes traffic worse, the more we spend in L.A. on homelessness, the more demand we induce for homeless services and the more other municipalities can justify shipping their homeless to LA. Los Angeles is even planning to convert beachside parking lots like the one on Will Rogers State Beach in the Pacific Palisades into rent-free city encampments replete with “tiny homes,” food, utilities, and social services. Now that’s good living!
While some of the fairest weather in the nation has always been a draw, now that District Attorney George Gascon has decided not prosecute many crimes like public intoxication, disturbing the peace, trespassing, or resisting arrest, the streets of .L.A are now a mecca for misbehavior. Given the weather, benefits and lax criminal enforcement, it’s no surprise more than one third of L.A.’s homeless originally became homeless elsewhere. More money and benefits are sure to accelerate this trend.
Instead of spending billions of dollars on homeless projects and benefits that will just encourage and attract more homelessness, we must address the main causes of homelessness: housing unaffordability due to overregulation, and untreated mental illness and drug addiction due to lack of facilities and care requirements. Rather than ravaging vulnerable populations by throwing billions into public housing that impoverishes communities and raises housing costs, we should try slashing the 21-million-word building code that includes cumbersome regulations such as minimum unit sizes and parking requirements. We’d want to maintain crucial fire and earthquake safety rules, of course, but getting rid of unnecessary regulations would allow for the rapid development of market rate housing, which in turn would dramatically improve L.A.’s affordability.
Our limited city resources, rather than squandered on public housing, could instead be invested in treatment facilities for mental illness and addiction that lead to homelessness in the first place. Given how 78% of California homeless report mental health conditions and 75% report substance abuse issues, building facilities and requiring treatment for “gravely disabled” individuals unable to care for themselves would help Californians receive the treatment they need and allow us to clear our streets. With treatment capacity restored, we could enforce basic quality-of-life laws and direct our ill and addicted into treatment, not prison cells.
The causes of homelessness aren’t a mystery, and basic economics tells us why guaranteed income and public housing are bad ideas. Our silverspoon, office-chasing mayor’s conflation of real leadership with what’s popular on Twitter isn’t just endangering our city’s safety and treasury, it’s also causing unnecessary human suffering. Angelenos must reject billions in wasteful spending and demand the solutions we know will give us the Los Angeles we remember and deserve.