Proud citizens of Los Angeles like to translate their hometown as The City of Angels, and for decades Angelinos were content to leave it to the Angels to provide shelter for the poor.
“Our weather’s so good,” they consoled themselves, “it can’t be that bad living outdoors.”
The net-net of this malign neglect is that in 1995, Los Angeles had only 12,000 units of public housing for a city of 3 million.
Since then, things have only gotten worse. Today, Los Angeles has 4 million people, and more than 800,000 of them live in poverty and for them, the city now offers just 6500 units of subsidized housing.
And in addition to the 5400 subsidized units that have disappeared, LA is having a typical 21st Century housing boom, in which low-rent, low-profit apartments or houses for people of limited means are also being disappeared and replaced by full-priced, fully-profitable “market housing.” In the beachfront town of Venice, 80% of the new housing is aimed at the luxury market.
To sum it up, Los Angeles is full of poor people with nowhere to live, and so many of them have been forced to live in tents on Skid Row and or in city parks or in SUV’s parked on neighborhood streets, that they have forced Angelinos to see that it is that bad living out doors, bad for the people living rough, and bad for the people who have to live near or pass by them.
And people woke up, and in late 2016 and early 2017, the voters of Los Angeles approved, first, a $1.2 billion increase in property taxes to pay for 10,000 new units of subsidized permanent housing for people with nowhere to live, and then, a quarter of a cent increase in the sales tax to fund services for homeless people.
These sound like signs of progress, not just in the humanity of voters in LA, but their politics.
The LA affordable housing crisis was a long time building. In 1984, Republican President Ronald Reagan, a former Governor of California said that people are homeless “by choice.” Some 10 years later Democratic President Bill Clinton said “Public housing has never been a right; it has always been a privilege.”
Eloquent testimony from 2 of the leading conspirators in 40 years of American politics devoted to piling comforts on the comfortable and re-empowering the powerful while leaving the afflicted to suffer their afflictions in neglect.
Nowadays, like the homeless of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, the afflicted have grown too numerous to ignore and their afflictions – joblessness and homelessness, opioid and alcohol addiction, depression and suicide – have become too public to hide.
And in the face of these human disasters, 7 years of Tea Party politics, of radical cutting of taxes (especially on corporations and the rich) have left government unable to provide services for those in need.
And not just the needy are left unserved. Schools are cutting back to 4 days a week, and classrooms are crammed with more kids than they can hold. Hospitals, especially small, rural hospitals are closing. Buses run less frequently, Cops answer calls more slowly. Because governments are being starved.
And people are noticing. Those 2 Los Angeles votes for higher taxes to house and serve the homeless suggest changes could be coming. And so do signs in Kansas and Illinois and Oklahoma that voters are starting to get it, that the right-wing agenda actually hurts them and their kids and their neighborhoods.
Bryce Covert is an independent journalist writing about the economy. She is a contributing op-ed writer at the New York Times and a contributing writer at The Nation. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, the New Republic, Slate, and others, and she won a 2016 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NPR, and other outlets.
She was previously Economic Editor at ThinkProgress, Editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog, and a contributor at Forbes. She also worked as a financial reporter and head of the energy sector at mergermarket, an online newswire that is part of the Financial Times group.