Over the past week, two local elected officials in Los Angeles have made public statements about the homelessness crisis plaguing the area. They represent two completely different perspectives on how to resolve the crisis.
The first comes in the form of a letter of thanks of outgoing Los Angeles City Council member Mike Bonin sent to those of his constituents wishing him luck in whatever he does next. Regarding his legacy, Bonin writes:
“By providing housing and services, we are changing lives and opening a pathway out of homelessness. Since the launch of the Venice Beach Encampments to Homes initiative, 76 people have been permanently housed. Seventy six people. Remember this number.
Bonin’s philosophy is consistent with what remains the dominant progressive doctrine on homelessness, known as “Housing First.” He is set on the US Department of Housing and Urban Development as “an approach to quickly and successfully connect homeless individuals and families to permanent housing without preconditions or barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements”.
This approach has made Bonin infamous even among the mostly progressive residents of Venice Beach, where a estimated 2,000 homeless have taken over this small seaside suburb of Los Angeles. Only a small fraction of them have received “supportive housing” or temporary shelter, and only a small fraction have been held accountable for the use and sale of hard drugs, public intoxication, theft, vandalism or worse.
The other official who has recently weighed in on these challenges facing Los Angeles is their county sheriff, the outspoken Alex Villanueva. In one interview with California InsiderVillanueva describes how progressive politics have combined to “defund, defame and denigrate” his ministry.
In a must-watch video, Villanueva claims that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is the only major local government in the United States that has not begun to withdraw funding from the police movement. He says the worst impact of the defunding is the hiring freeze, which has prevented department veterans from mentoring new hires before they retire. But it’s the county’s response to the homelessness crisis that draws Villanueva’s most scathing remarks.
“The problem with city government and county government is that they [woke ideologues] occupy every seat at the table,” according to Villanueva, “That’s why every city, or county, homelessness plan is doomed. No other opinions enter.
“They think if we build enough supportive housing, we’ll end homelessness in Los Angeles. But the more you build, the more people will come. Right now we have 25% of the nation’s homeless in Los Angeles County. What’s going to stop more homeless people from coming to LA if they see someone living in a $500,000 condo with a beach view? They’ll say, ‘hey, I want one too.’ We cannot create the magnet that brings other people here.
California Subsidized Housing – The Boondoggle Archipelago
Villianueva is not exaggerating, and this problem has been known for some time. In a 2019 California Policy Center report titled “The Boondogle Archipelagoseveral representative examples of staggering costs for “supportive housing” were revealed. San Francisco Proposition A funding housing at an estimated cost of $500,000 per unit. The Alameda County Measure A1 funds for housing cost $736,000 per unit. San Jose Measure A funds for housing are between $406,000 and $706,000 per unit. Los Angeles’ plan to repurpose an existing structure at the Veterans Affairs campus in West Los Angeles to create supportive housing at a cost of $926,000 per unit. Also in Los Angeles, $1.2 billion in bonds to build supportive housing at an estimated cost of $550,000 per unit.
And back in Venice Beach, Mike Bonin’s backyard, the plan to create 140 new apartments on city-owned property that is currently the only major beach parking lot available to the public. Nicknamed “The monster on the medianby outraged residents, the estimated total cost of the project is at least $1.1 million per unit.
These costs are not going down. But for the 2021-22 fiscal year, Los Angeles County has budgeted $527 million to fight homelessness. Also for fiscal year 2021-22, the City of Los Angeles has allocated $1.0 billion, almost 10% of all spending, “for the homeless crisis”. Add to this the spending on homelessness by many other cities in Los Angeles County, as well as direct state and federal spending, and ongoing disbursements from approved homeless housing bonds. Will it work?
The most recent homeless count for Los Angeles County was in 2020, with the 2021 count canceled due to COVID and, for the same reason, the 2022 count postponed for the time being. But in 2020, there was a estimated 66,000 homeless in Los Angeles County. Housing is unlikely to have kept up with the influx, since, as Sheriff Villanueva accurately proclaims, Los Angeles is a national magnet for homeless migration. At $500,000 per unit, it would cost $33 billion to house every homeless person in Los Angeles, assuming there are none. This does not include the bloated bureaucracy and perpetual costs of managing homeless people’s housing, nor the expense of caring for them and setting them on the path to independence.
As noted in a lengthy 2019 study published by the California Policy Center titled “The homeless industrial complex”, and as expressed more recently in a provocative and convincing book, “san franciscoby writer and activist Michael Shellenberger, homelessness is not just a housing problem, which must be solved by more housing. It is primarily a problem of mental illness, addiction and crime. At the very least, some of the billions of taxpayer dollars that need to be spent on “Housing First” need to be redirected, with equal amounts spent immediately on treatment and, for some, incarceration. In many cases, involuntary treatment, i.e. incarceration, is the alone way to save people from addiction.
Mike Bonin, along with countless other hardline progressives, refuses to accept this reality. But ideological idiocy alone does not explain why common sense reforms do not sweep away these failed policies.
The homelessness and crime that plagues Californian cities, especially Los Angeles, has gone unsolved because there is an identity of interests between public bureaucrats, powerful nonprofits, and politically connected real estate developers. , who prefer that policies remain unchanged. Billions are pouring in, and as the problem only gets worse, more billions are pouring in, allowing a homeless industrial complex to thrive on failure.
Members of Los Angeles County law enforcement, from the elected sheriff to street officers to the unions that represent them, and to their immense credit, have recognized that progressive ideology – embodied by the local politician in the Mike Bonin retirement – created the problem and only makes the problem worse. It is up to other actors influencing politics in Los Angeles and elsewhere to come to the same conclusion, no matter what damage a new approach might inflict on their budgets and prerogatives.