Homelessness has exploded in Los Angeles, California making it a top concern for residents, but they say throwing more money at the problem is not the solution. They’re right. There’s just too much red tape.

In a new poll of registered voters conducted by the LA Times and a business council, LA voters have expressed frustration with how the city is handling its homeless problem. Even more, they don’t support new funding increases because they think the city has been ineffective in addressing the burgeoning homeless crisis.

Reportedly, large majorities support providing shelter including emergency tents on government property, shared housing arrangements, higher-density development, public showers and bathrooms, and expanded mental health and substance abuse treatment.

However, when asked about increased funding, public support dropped.

Only 25 percent said funding should be increased for programs. Some 66 percent said the city has enough money from the funding measures taxpayers already approved that are set to expire. Over half (58 percent) would agree to renew that funding but not a penny more.

A restaurant worker articulated the sentiment of his neighbors:

“There’s funds there to do these very things. And it has not been done. And the red tape. They’re like, ‘Well, it just takes time.’ But I mean, the solution is there and yet they’re part of the problem.”

He couldn’t be more right.

Homelessness is Bad and Getting Worse

In June, Los Angeles officials acknowledged that homelessness was up by 12 percent in the county and 16 percent in the City of Los Angeles over the last year. Nearly 60,000 people were homeless in the county and a little over half of that (36,300) in the city. 

To put that in perspective, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there about 550,000 homeless Americans on a given night. Los Angeles County accounts for ten percent of national homelessness. Los Angeles is second only to New York City.

More Money is Not the Solution, Getting Rid of Over-Regulation is

Los Angeles spent nearly $620 million on homelessness in 2018. A bond measure passed in 2016 and a tax increase in 2017 handed the city and county billions of dollars to create new housing for the homeless and provide services. It’s still not enough.

Rising rents and a lack of housing residents can afford are driving homelessness along with substance abuse and mental health issues. 

The problem with just building more housing is that over-regulation and local codes make it difficult to expand housing in Los Angeles as compared to cities with more affordable housing options. The restaurant worker quoted mentioned “red tape” and he was right.

Cities like LA need new housing especially multi-family homes and apartment buildings. Onerous zoning, land use, and building regulations limit the supply of new housing. Lower supply drives up prices. The city/country building new homes will never be enough. If the market was operating efficiently though, supply would be higher and prices should be lower. Taxpayers would not have to step in to the extent that they have.

As scholars explain:

Local zoning codes justifiably receive a lot of blame for the state’s high housing costs. They restrict new home creation — particularly multifamily homes, from duplexes to large apartment buildings. There’s no doubt that zoning rules are a key driver of California’s sky-high housing costs, as economists have found extensive evidence that regions where land-use regulations stand in the way of new housing supply suffer from high house prices and rents.

Los Angeles residents are right to be angry about how their money is being spent on homelessness with little or no results to show. 

Instead of continuing to throw money behind band-aid solutions, they should consider the underlying conditions driving rising housing costs: over-regulation.