(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump said he wants to curb homelessness in Los Angeles and other large U.S. cities, blaming the problem squarely on Democrats as he campaigns for re-election.
Options his administration is examining include relocating homeless people from the streets of Los Angeles and elsewhere into vacant federal property, two officials said.
The White House released a report on homelessness on Monday that described the issue largely as a result of over-regulation of the housing market, exacerbated by lax policing and an abundance of homeless shelters in Democratic-led cities.
The report was criticized by advocates for the homeless, who say the administration should put more money into affordable housing programs instead of proposing to cut spending.
The president arrived in California Tuesday on a two-day trip to raise money for his re-election campaign. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is also visiting the state, where he will hold meetings on the issue. The two men aren’t expected to intersect. But homelessness -- particularly in California -- has worked its way into Trump’s political rhetoric.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday. “And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up. And we’re looking at it, and we’ll be doing something about it.”
He also complained that homeless people are living on the “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” as property owners pay “tremendous taxes” and picked their locations because of “prestige.”
Trump has frequently derided U.S. cities run by Democrats, describing places including Chicago and Baltimore as blighted, crime-ridden and rat-infested.
“We’re going to fight for the future of cities like Baltimore that have been destroyed by decades of failed and corrupt rule,” Trump told House Republican leaders at a meeting last week in the Maryland city. “We’re going to have to step in and do something about it because we can’t allow that to happen to our great cities.”
The Washington Post previously reported that administration officials are considering relocating homeless people into federal property, and that officials examining the idea even toured an abandoned Federal Aviation Administration building in Los Angeles.
There is little dispute that homelessness has ballooned into a crisis in recent years, especially in Los Angeles.
Once confined largely to Skid Row, an area of sleeping bags and cardboard shelters just a few blocks behind downtown’s City Hall, Los Angeles’s homeless population has spread throughout the city. Today, many public parks and freeway overpasses serves as homeless compounds, often resembling campgrounds with pop-up tents, chairs and even area rugs.
The rising cost of housing is to blame, as are court rulings preventing police from removing people sleeping outdoors until enough shelters are built. Voters, fed up with the unsightly compounds, have twice approved tax increases to fund housing initiatives.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat in his second term, has established a “war room” to address the crisis, which has made him a punching bag for columnists in the Los Angeles Times. The latest count showed the homeless population rising 16% in the city in just a year to more than 36,000.
“If you go out there and you see some of those people on the street and you talk to them, you know, many of them simply are not capable of taking care of themselves,” Carson said last week in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News. “We have to take some responsibility here.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom and the mayors of the state’s 13 largest cities, including Garcetti, issued a letter to Trump on Monday inviting him to “collaborate with us on solutions -- tied to federal investments -- to address homelessness and housing insecurity.”
Garcetti said in an emailed statement that if Trump “really cares about solving this crisis, he wouldn’t be talking about criminalization over housing. He’d be making dramatic increases in funding for this country’s housing safety net.”
Trump signed an executive order in June directing his government to reduce “regulatory barriers to affordable housing.” The White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report on Monday that cited the order’s warning of “overly restrictive zoning and growth management controls, rent controls, cumbersome building and rehabilitation codes, excessive energy and water efficiency mandates” and other state and local restrictions for higher home prices.
The report said that “policing may be an important tool to help move people off the street” without acknowledging the court rulings that restrict authorities’ ability to remove the homeless. It also said that “expanding the supply of homeless shelters shifts the demand for homes inward and increases homelessness.”
The report cited a 1989 book by sociologist Peter Rossi for the policing claim and a 1996 book by economist Brendan O’Flaherty for the claim about homeless shelters. Rossi is deceased, while O’Flaherty said the report quoted his work accurately but is flawed.
“The report contains some good economics. But the conclusions are not well-supported,” O’Flaherty, an economics professor at Columbia University, said in an email.
The White House report says that certain individual indicators make homelessness more likely -- such as severe mental illness, substance abuse, previous incarceration and low incomes. But O’Flaherty said, “there is no evidence that changing individual characteristics will reduce aggregate homelessness.”
The administration’s report also forecast a 13 percent reduction in the homeless population attributed to rolling back regulations in housing. Reducing housing regulations is a good idea for many reasons that are unrelated to homelessness, O’Flaherty said, but those changes’ impacts are felt over decades. “Reducing homelessness by the 13% that they claim over even 30 years is hardly going to make a dent today or in the near future,” O’Flaherty said.
Advocates for the homeless have generally welcomed the administration’s interest in the issue. But Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said the CEA report’s claims “are absurd and disturbing.”
“Lax policing has nothing to do with increased homelessness. Lack of affordable housing drives homelessness,” she said.
She said her group would support converting unused federal property into shelters “or housing, preferably,” calling it a “good idea.”
“But you can’t just take a random property and force people into it,” she said.
She rejected the idea that an abundance of homeless shelters in Washington and Boston leads to increased homelessness. “The idea that shelters are too comfortable is absurd for anyone with even a passing knowledge of homelessness in this country,” she said.
And she said that the administration’s budget proposals, which have included cuts for affordable-housing programs, would worsen the crisis.
“The administration has proposed cuts for housing for poor people,” she said. “That not only doesn’t help, but it makes the situation worse.”
Newsom and California’s mayors said Trump should increase the number of federal vouchers for rental assistance by 50,000, increase the value of the vouchers to account for higher rent in U.S. cities, and encourage more landlords to accept the vouchers.
Carson follows one day behind the president on visits to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego where he’ll participate in events that highlight affordable housing, new “Opportunity Zone” for investment, and homelessness issues, according to a senior Housing and Urban Development official. The official asked not to be identified discussing the secretary’s schedule.
--With assistance from Noah Buhayar, Josh Wingrove and Esmé E. Deprez.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jordan Fabian in Palo Alto, California at firstname.lastname@example.org;Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at firstname.lastname@example.org, Joshua Gallu
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