Let's be frank: The CCA doesn't want homeless people on Skid Row during the day or night. They don't want homeless folks on the streets, in downtown shelters, in residential hotels, or low-income housing, or soup kitchens or rehab programs. Despite giving lip service to compassion for the destitute, the CCA would simply like to have homeless people out of sight, out of mind, and out of downtown. Whether the conditions are better or worse for homeless people is of little concern to the CCA on its march to turning the area into an oasis for the affluent.
We need to reframe the short-sighted debate over Skid Row into a broader public conversation about what kind of downtownand citywe want five, ten and 50 years from now.
Our goal should be to provide all residentsmiddle-class families, the working poor, seniors, young couples, and the troubled homelesswith the housing they need. All new housing in LA should be mixed-income, well-designed, and built in neighborhoods throughout the city, including downtown.
Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and director of the Urban & Enviromental Policy program at Occidental College. He is coauthor of three books: Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century; The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle For A Livable City; and Regions That Work: How Cities and Suburbs Can Grow Together; and co-editor of Up Against the Sprawl.
Let 'em have yurts
Peter, one of the things I've not seen on my walks as a humble pedestrian here is the 90,000 homeless you mention. That figure comes straight from the office of the Mayor, whose aides have bought into the ersatz research provided them by the city's homeless industrial complex. Whenever I walk in the most homeless-intensive sector of town, LA's Skid Rowand I walk those streets quite oftenI can only count about 1,000 people sleeping on the street, tops, on any given night. I can only guess that there might be as many as 50,000 homeless elsewhere in the County, but that's a guessand all the homeless numbers, as you know, are pure guesswork.
Homelessness is the great shame of the City of Los Angeles, on that we can indeed agreebut we will never take true steps toward solving this problem until we stop using the homeless as props for our various contractor slush funds, and start welcoming them into more supportive institutions than missions and jails.
In my dream city, Peter, we'd stop handing taxpayer money over to developers and contractors for affordable housing projects and jails. We'd simply house whoever needed lodging, for a year or for a night, in New Yurt City, along the banks of the river south of downtown, in yurtsat under $7,000 a unit, a scant $175 million buys an astonishing 25,000 of these, and the city and County have the land. And we'd give them access to 2,000 Echo Park Lake-level secure necessary rooms that can be built for $17,000 a unit, not the $200,000 boondoggle outhouses they've incongruently plunked down on Skid Row. That would add another $34 million to the bill.
I'm tight. I've only spent $209 million to fix the homeless crisis, and that's all I'm going to spend. Done.
That's right. For an amount that equals roughly double what the Mayor wants us to contribute to the so-called Affordable Housing Trust (where does that $100 million a year go, anyway, and why aren't we seeing benefits?), we could put a roof over every homeless head in the County. You may not think that yurts lend dignity to the homelessI don't eitherbut I would further counter that a real room lends a soul more dignity than a cardboard box or a freeway overpass, the kind of "housing" where the mayor's billion-dollar Affordable Housing Bond leaves 95% of the homeless.
Wait. We'd offer a light-rail tram along existing tracks from New Yurt City straight up to Transformation Town ("T-Town"), a bazaar of service organizations organized not in a containment zone (as is the current Skid Row) but along the perimeter of a well-policed plaza on a parcel kindly donated to the city by Richard Meruelo (in exchange for an easement his friend the mayor would grant him elsewhere), where all service organizations would constantly compete for the sacred right of servicing the neediest among us. Do the job efficiently, and you get a slot. Fail, and someone takes your place.
You want workforce housing? So do I. We'd work with every service organization and union in the city and help them generate workforce housing. We'd ask them simply to pony up the land for such housing. If they can bring land to the table, we'll grant them every easement in the book to house their various workforces. Cost to the city: nada.
But we wouldn't need much workforce housing after we rolled back rent controls and incentivized condo conversions. We'd glut the market with homes rather than apartments. We'd put back in place all the missing rungs in the city's housing ladder, and enable anyone with six months' salary saved in the bank and good credit to buy a starter homeand we'd have cheap enough rents and cheap enough housing that prudent people would be able to put together six months' salary for a down payment in three to five years' time.
After everything was made well again, and people could actually afford to live here with neither government props nor inheritance, I guess I'd also have to find something for the 600 employees of the City's Department of Housing to do. Or maybe not: Though I asked them five times last year, they could never even tell me how many rentals there are in the city! I suppose they could just keep doing whatever they're doing now.
Joseph Mailander is a writer and lecturer on architecture and urbanism who often nags the city of Los Angeles about housing issues. He edits the blog MartiniRepublic.com, which features a special category on architecture and urbanist issues, martinirepublic.com/la+u.