Why Do We Have So Many Homeless?

A tent settlement in Downtown LA

A tent settlement in Downtown LA

By now it’s clear to anyone who’s paying attention that the homeless population in LA is growing. Not only is Skid Row more crowded than ever, but we’re seeing people living on the streets in communities all over the county. Burbank is a relatively affluent city, and forty years ago it was unusual to see a homeless person on the street. Now it’s a common sight.

So the article in today’s LA Times about the rise in the homeless population doesn’t come as a big surprise. The number of people living on the streets in LA County has risen 12% since the last count was taken two years ago. The Times article was prompted by a report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). According to the report, one of the key factors driving people out into the streets is the lack of affordable housing.

The cost of housing in this city is too damn high. A recent study from UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs found that LA is the most unaffordable rental market in the country. While the cost of housing in New York and San Francisco is sky-high, incomes are also significantly higher. Rental units may be cheaper in LA, but the average income is so much lower that it eats up a larger share of the tenant’s paycheck.

And here’s an interesting comment from Paul Ong, one of the authors of the UCLA study.

“During periods of increasing inequality, the burden has grown even more severe,” Ong said. “Vacancy rates have risen only slightly — even dipping at times when the housing burden has increased. And renters are paying more for the same quality housing, suggesting that neither market forces nor changing housing quality fully explain the increasing rents.”

So if market forces aren’t driving prices higher, what is? Could it be greed? Developers are falling all over themselves in the scramble to build high-end housing in this city. But there’s almost no interest in building affordable housing. In fact, we’ve lost thousands of affordable units in recent years. And because the interests of our Mayor and our City Council are so closely aligned with interests of the developers (campaign cash may be a factor), they’ve made no serious attempt to reverse the trend. The fact that the number of homeless has risen by 12% shows that the City’s meager efforts to create affordable housing are not nearly enough.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen the Times article, a link is below. I’m also including the report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. And if you aren’t totally depressed after reading the first two, there’s a link to a press release that summarizes the findings of the UCLA study.

Homelessness up 12%

Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority

LA Most Unaffordable Rental Market in the Nation

So if you read all this stuff, and feel like you’d like to do something about it, this final link will take you to the Skid Row Housing Trust. These are good people doing good work. They deserve your support.

Skid Row Housing Trust

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