Last week, I visited Venice, a neighborhood in LA that is full of rich technology entrepreneurs and homeless people. While walking along a canal, I noticed a sign, “Stop Monster”. It took me to the phrase Google to learn more about this problem.
Monster is a proposed 140 housing project that will be built in a parking lot along the Grand Canal in Venice, one block from the beach in the very center of the city. Approximately half of the unit will go to the homeless, the other half will be given to low-income workers and artists. The LA Times Suggests that the project will cost 75 million, or just over $ 500,000 per unit, while critics suggest that the total cost could be as high as 4 1.4 million per unit. I believe critics are adding the cost of using 3 acres of prime Venice real estate and some other opportunity costs.
I was impressed by the fact that critics often complain that the project is an example of YIMBYism, in favor of building more housing as a way to address America’s housing crisis. I consider myself a YIMBY, but have trouble understanding the rationale behind this particular housing proposal.
Although I am not as wealthy as the Venetian canal dwellers, my economic situation is certainly much closer to that of a typical Venetian homeowner than a typical Venetian homeless person. So my view may be biased by the fact that it is easier for me to stand up to those who oppose “monsters”. But even if the interests of the homeless are paramount, I don’t see why this project makes sense, as the philosopher John Rolls encouraged us to do. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people live on the streets in Venice, and the project does nothing for the least fortunate of that group, meaning those who will not be lucky enough to get one of the 68 units set aside for the homeless in the new project. In fact one does not have to be a resident of Venice to qualify. (Venice is not a separate city like Santa Monica; it is a neighborhood in Los Angeles.)
Suppose there are 1500 homeless people in Venice. Also assume that the scope cost of this proposed project is $ 150 million, while the cost of land is included. In that case, instead of providing housing to 68 homeless people, why not provide housing to all 1500 people at a cost of $ 100,000 / person. This is a fairly typical American housing cost. (I’m guessing a $ 300,000 house with three residents.)
You could argue that my proposed policy would not solve the homeless problem in Venice, because the supply of homeless people in California is somewhat resilient. I agree! In fact, a while ago I was criticized for claiming this “resilience,” as commentators pushed back against my claim that California attracted homeless people from other areas. In fairness, I should have been more specific and referred to “street people” instead of “homeless”. Consider this information from Argument magazine:
In San Francisco, 73 percent of the city’s homeless population is considered homeless. This is not normal, even for a large city: in New York City, the figure is about 3 percent.
Homeless people live in many areas, but California is a relatively preferred place Street people. Obviously I don’t want to say absolutely desirable, just that it’s better to live on the streets of California than in New York. Due to high housing costs, there are plenty of homeless people in New York, but only 3% of them live on the streets.
If I’m wrong about street people, if stimuli don’t affect their behavior, Venice can really solve its homeless problem at a relatively low cost. I imagine there are some tech billionaires in Venice who are rich enough to write a check for $ 150 million, enough to buy a ranch house in the Midwest to accommodate every homeless person in Venice. If they do, another 1,500 homeless people will quickly replace them on the streets of Venice. It is not “effective altruism”.
I’m not sure if the progressives are willing to face the fact that even if the number of people on the streets is small, it’s a matter of how interesting we can make the solution to homelessness. There will be more street people in Venice if the solution to their homelessness is the $ 1.4 million unit from the beach in central Venice, and less street people if the solution involves buying a huge unused warehouse in a hot, polluted industrial area. East LA, and then hundreds of military style barracks installed inside.
Yes, my proposed solution is punitive. Progressive solutions are completely ineffective. I don’t particularly like both solutions. Is there a third way?
Here we have to go back to the difference between homeless and street people. Most homeless people in America do not live on the streets. Many have jobs. For that group, the best solution is to create more marketable housing. Much more. Most homeless people will not be able to afford that new construction. They will certainly not be able to live in the new construction in central Venice. Still, building new houses, Even the palace, Helping the homeless by lowering the price of existing housing, just as building new cars helps low-income people by lowering the price of old used cars. (Have you noticed that what happens to the price of a used car when a chip deficit limits the production of a new car?) In that sense, I am a YIMBY.
I have no easy answer for those who live on the streets. Many have problems with drugs, alcohol and mental illness. Some people claim that a “hard love” method works best, encouraging the unfortunate to get treatment. If so, my punitive “barracks” proposal could actually alleviate the problem. Maybe or not. I don’t know enough to give a strong opinion in one way or another about the problems people on the street face. All I know is that the kind of solution suggested by the progressives in Venice will not work. So maybe it’s time to at least try something else?
There seems to be some confusion about the meaning of “YIMBY” Critics of the Venetian “monster” blame YIMBYs. So let me just say that I am a fan of “market price housing in my backyard”. Call me a MIMBY.
PS I am at the same time terrified and impressed that the United States is willing to finance such projects. Panicked that we try to address the homeless with such an expensive and ineffective policy. Fascinated that we have enough sympathy for the homeless to spend a lot of money on the million dollar housing units set up in the coveted SoCal beach area right next to the rich man’s house. Most other countries will not be willing to do it. I really wonder if No other country The program will be effective in this sort.