From: City Lab
President Donald Trump capped off a week in which the White House spent considerable energy on the housing crisis in California by threatening to slap the city of San Francisco with a notice of environmental violation. The reason: water pollution caused by homeless people.
The administration appears to be on a war footing with local and state governments in California. That threat followed reports that White House officials were planning a crackdown on L.A.’s Skid Row and had toured a former federal office building near Los Angeles as a potential site for detaining hundreds or thousands of unhoused people. To complete the administration’s West Coast tour, Housing Secretary Ben Carson made crude remarks about transgender people, telling Bay Area staffers how “big, hairy men” could infiltrate women’s homeless shelters.
Like so many Infrastructure Weeks before it, Trump’s Housing Week did not exactly go off without a hitch, and it was partially overshadowed by other Trump scandals-in-progress. But it did produce a document that could have lasting consequences: the White House’s new report on homelessness. The paper, released by the Council of Economic Advisors, outlines what might be a conservative template for fixing homelessness: more police, more market-rate housing, and more strings attached to aid. The report takes a dim view of several traditional approaches and widely understood principles, contradicting even this administration’s own expert conclusions about what causes homelessness. Among housing advocates, it set off lots of alarm bells.
“Where to start?” says Megan Hustings, managing director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “We know that the number one cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. We began to see homelessness in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the federal budget for affordable housing programs was slashed by around 75 percent. Today, we spend more to subsidize home ownership than we do to assist the lowest-income households.”
The new report sets out the logic for a punitive approach to homelessness favored by the White House. It calls for a bigger role for law enforcement in policing unhoused people, questions the wisdom of Housing First (a strategy that calls for giving housing to chronically homeless people before addressing substance abuse or unemployment issues), and makes a broad case for deregulating housing markets as a solution for unhoused people. Housing advocates took issue with all three of those ideas.