Too Few Homes, Too Many Homeless: Part Two, How to Fix It

Edward Ring
Edward Ring is the vice president of research policy for the California Policy Center.

We’re well into spring in subtropical California. Up and down the coast, from Venice Beach to San Francisco, tens of thousands of homeless people live in makeshift abodes, strewn along the streets and alleys, the beaches and boardwalks, beside parking garages, freeway onramps, and under bridges. Their numbers increasing every year, they now live openly in the hearts of magnificent downtowns, permanently encamped on the lawns of city halls and civic centers. In some areas entire urban parks are filled with their tents. A perfect storm of court decisions and legislation have tied the hands of law enforcement, and well organized activists join forces with well financed nonprofits and their partners, politically connected developers, to prevent any practical solutions.

And so, day after day, Californians living and working on some of the most expensive real estate on earth pick their way through sidewalks littered with shit and syringes, dodging stoned junkies and screaming schizophrenics, hoping they won’t catch typhus or hepatitis as they make their way to their jobs, take their kids to school, and try to live normal lives. There is no end in sight.

The burgeoning population of homeless in California, now estimated at around 150,000 people, is a problem that could be solved in months, if the appropriate political and judicial decisions were swiftly enacted and decisively applied. Instead there is no indication it will ever be solved. The state has become a magnet for the welfare cases of America and the expatriates of the world, at the same time as the state has imposed crippling restrictions on the ability of the private sector to build new housing.

California is unaffordable because extreme environmentalists have imposed an agenda of engineered scarcity onto state policymakers that, unfortunately, dovetails perfectly with the agenda of special interests – in particular, public sector unions and bureaucrats, and large corporate land developers and construction contractors. Virtually all of these special interests are Democrats, the party of greed, lies, envy and deception, controlled by leftist plutocrats and their willing accomplices. Until California’s voters wake up and break this immoral, self-serving coalition, there is little hope that housing prices in particular, or the cost-of-living in general, will ever come down in California.

Outside of blue state America, the battle still rages, and victory is still possible. But to win, it will take bold policies, expressed with clarity and enthusiasm, policies that will offer struggling middle and low income communities opportunities for upwards mobility.

Towards a Housing Surplus and a Shortage of Homeless People

Here are policies that would make housing plentiful and affordable:

(1) Eliminate all government subsidies, incentives or waivers to developers. All players in the housing industry should be unsubsidized, and playing by the same set of rules.

(2) Stop requiring diverse types of housing within the same development or neighborhood. Mixing high-density, subsidized housing into residential neighborhoods devalues the existing housing, and this social engineering is unfair to existing residents who have paid a high price to live there.

(3) Roll back the more extreme building codes. Requiring 100 percent of homes to be “energy neutral” or mandating rooftop photovoltaic arrays, for example, greatly increase the cost of homes.

(4) Lower the fees on building permits for new housing and housing remodels. Doing this might require pension reform, since that’s where all extra revenue goes, but until permitting costs are lowered, only billionaire developers can afford to build.

(5) Speed up the permitting process. Development approvals should take days or weeks, not months or years. Again, the practical effect of this failure is that only major developers can afford to build.

(6) Reform or eliminate state and local environmental regulations. In most cases, Federal laws already provide adequate environmental safeguards.

(7) Make it easier to extract building materials in-state. California, for example, is spectacularly rich in natural resources, yet it has to import lumber and aggregate from as far away as Canada. This not only greatly increases construction costs, it’s hypocritical.

(8) Increase the supply of land for private development of housing. Currently only 3.6 percent of the continental United States is urbanized. There are literally hundreds of thousands of square miles of non-farm, non critical habitat that could be opened up for massive land development.

(9) Engage in practical, appropriate zoning for infill and densification in urban cores, but only after also increasing the supply of open land for housing, and only while continuing to respect the integrity of established residential neighborhoods.

Along With Policy Solutions, Expose the Corruption

Democratic politicians, backed by an establishment coalition that wields overwhelming financial supremacy in the political arena, have sold their program as morally superior to Republican alternatives. But their case, marketed to voters by the finest political campaigners and public relations firms that money can buy, falls apart under the weight of facts. The cold economic truth about Democrats in California is this: They have made it the most inhospitable place in America for low and middle income residents. Unchecked, they’re going to do it to America. But they do not hold the moral high ground. They are immoral hypocrites, slandering their opponents, exploiting their supporters, and laughing all the way to the bank.

There is a moral value to providing opportunity by making California affordable. There is a moral value to embracing policies of abundance – by turning the private sector loose to increase the supply of housing, energy, water, et al. – rather than creating politically contrived artificial scarcity.

There is a coherent alternative vision to the self-serving politics of scarcity. But it will mean launching a sustained assault on the government unions, the extreme environmentalists and their allies, the plaintiff’s bar, and the social justice fanatics that have taken over grassroots movements. It will require challenging not their lofty idealism or their proclaimed altruism, but their premises and their methods.

A similar moral argument must be made to solve the problem of homelessness, and it will also require a sustained assault against a similar cast of characters. Over the past 30-40 years, the rights of the mentally ill, the homeless, and even the illegal immigrant, have been elevated to the point of impracticality, to the point where everyone is worse off. Solutions will require litigation and legislation.

Immigration laws need to be reformed to take away the incentive for migrants to undertake perilous journeys. The mentally ill need to be taken off the streets and put back into hospitals. Criminals need to be reincarcerated. For those homeless who are truly down on their luck, without other options, housing codes need to be modified so that “permanent supportive housing” can take the form of a $399 10’x10′ tent, pitched in a parking lot or field, with every dozen tents sharing a $649 porta potty. Sites can include central facilities providing showers and food distribution. Once the situation is stabilized, and Americans have taken back their streets and neighborhoods, additional amenities can be considered.

The moral high ground must be asserted at every turn. It isn’t concern for the homeless that prevents offering them tents, porta potties, and basic facilities for food and hygiene. It’s greed and corruption that diverts a few homeless people into expensive palaces, while the rest of them still live in dangerous squalor, destroying neighborhoods and public spaces. It is the naked, raw, sickening, institutionalized greed of a corrupt, failing society, ran by crooks masquerading as saviors.

It is not moral to make housing unaffordable in the name of environmental justice. It is not moral to make government services unaffordable in order to reserve funds to pay government workers pensions that are many times more expensive than Social Security. It is not moral to make perfect the enemy of the good, and deny a warm and safe tent to tens of thousands of homeless, in order to get a few hundred into half-million dollar apartments. It is not moral to turn American into a magnet for destitute foreigners, when only a small percentage of them will make it here anyway, and while native born Americans cannot find housing or jobs.

Here’s another excerpt from another email received from a resident of Southern California. It epitomizes what has happened there, and what is going to happen to America if the bad guys win:

“When I moved to Venice three years ago, my Mom and I invested in a triplex, which I live in and have been renovating constantly. It should have been a tear down, but I have been set on restoring the place, and it’s been a labor of love. It is so tough to actually upgrade your place as a landlord, I can’t even change my siding on my home without a permit and coastal commission approval (which isn’t even worth the hassle), yet large scale developments can bypass all zoning and environmental reviews. My dad’s parents met picking fruit in Salinas County. Eventually they moved to Pomona and bought a plot of land. All of their paychecks went to building their home while they lived with family. It took them a long time, but they bought all the materials and built everything themselves. This became a major source of equity and it propelled them up into the next class bracket. No one can do that today. Permits are so incredibly expensive and dealing with zoning and code is a nightmare. I am afraid that there is no even playing field anymore, and that upward mobility is dead. Everything really seems stacked against the individual taxpayer.”

Democrats, and the powerful elites that back them, have turned California into a feudal state. Its residents consist of an aristocracy of the privileged and connected, ruling over destitute masses who vote Democrat to receive promised government handouts, with the middle class is in full flight. Meanwhile, California’s economy is reliant on artificially inflated asset values and an upcycle in a cyclical high tech industry. The financial headwinds that buffet California are going to turn into a hurricane. It’s just a matter of time.

There is no coalition of special interests that will save America from California’s fate. It will take individual, patriotic Americans, joining together to challenge every premise of the Left, recognizing that immigration, housing prices, and homelessness are interrelated problems, caused by the same cast of special interests, and symptomatic of a more general totalitarian threat to our freedom, our prosperity, and our national identity.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

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