Editors may change, but the LA Times remains a staunch proponent of real estate speculation

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PLANNING WATCH – As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the Los Angeles Times (LAT) is a reliable member of the Urban Growth Machinean alliance of vested interests that promote real estate speculation.

Whether encouraging the suburbanization of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys in the 20and century or infill real estate projects in the 21stst century, the Times roll out the welcome mat for real estate speculators. But there is a catch. The newspaper’s editors must balance their employer’s commitment to real estate profit with a host of long-term adverse consequences, particularly roaming. To square this circle, journalists, columnists and columnists blame personal – not social – pathology for these unfortunate outcomes, particularly mental illness and addiction.

Even though the circulation of the newspaper has gone from 1,225,000 copies in 1990 to its current 556,000his dedication to the real estate industry has never wavered, even as its unintended consequence, mass homelessness, increases throughout the Los Angeles area.

Map of homeless concentrations throughout the Los Angeles area.

This devotion to building site – consistently (mis)labeled as the solution, not the cause, to the housing crisis – was on full display in the Sunday, February 21, 2022 edition of the newspaper.

Everyone’s favorite LAT columnist, Steve Lopez, wrote that “Homeless effort must tackle mental illness.” While undeniable, better mental health services for the homeless raise a deeper question. Why don’t most people with mental illness and/or addiction become homeless? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), each year, one in 20 people suffers from a serious mental illness and one in 15 suffers from both a substance use disorder and a mental illness. Given that the number of homeless people in the United States is approximately 600,000 people every night, and the total population of the United States is 330,000,000, the number of people with serious mental illness and/or addiction ranges from 16,000,000 to 22,000,000 people. Only a small percentage of them end up in cars, shelters or on the streets.

How most of them avoid homelessness? The answer comes down to resources, personal or through family and friends who help mentally ill and drug addicts find a place to live. Without access to these resources, the shortage of affordable housing means that a small minority of people with serious mental illness are homeless. Therefore, the solution is not just better mental health services, but also programs, like social housing, that prevent people from becoming homeless.

Another one Los Angeles Time columnist, Gustavo Arrellano promotes the private reassignment of Vacant 1.6 million square foot Sears building in Boyle Heights for homeless services and a shelter for 2,000 people and possibly 10,000. Like Steve Lopez’s call for better mental health services, this proposal also raises a crucial question. Why does Los Angeles County have 66,000 homeless people, and why does that number continue to rise, despite the steady expansion of homeless services and shelters?

Part of the answer is that the city and county’s approach to the housing crisis is to treat the symptoms and ignore the major structural causes, especially stagnating wages and the elimination of public housing programs. of the HUD.

The editorial page of the same LAT edition also offered, “Six things the next mayor needs to understand about homelessness.”

  • “Don’t say the root cause of homelessness is mental illness and addiction.” Sounds good, but the newspaper never bothered to list the root causes of homelessness, other than to say there is a lack of housing. However, this claim has been contradicted by two studies: Vacancy report and the Los Angeles City Council Report on the number of vacant and habitable housing units in Los Angeles. If homeless people had enough money, they could find vacant apartments for rent in Los Angeles.

  • “Talk about how you are going to increase the supply of housing in the city.” The devil is in the details, and the newspaper’s only detail is its LA endorsement. new housing element 2021-2029. Beyond that, the LAT is urging mayoral candidates to explain how they would pull a rabbit out of the hat, i.e. finance new low-cost apartments. However, the two obvious funding mechanisms are not mentioned: the restoration of HUD public housing programs and the Community Redevelopment Agency’s 20% budget allocation for subsidized public housing.

  • “Talk about how you will protect vulnerable tenants and others from losing their lodging.” In addition to asking candidates to say how they would protect tenants; the paper remains silent even if the answers are easy to find. LA’s current rent stabilization order is weak and needs to be strengthened. Vacancy decontrol should end so that older apartments do not revert to market rents when a new tenant moves in. Likewise, the city’s 1978 deadline for its rent stabilization ordinance should be updated. California law permits a 15 year deadline. If passed, thousands of apartments built between 1978 and 2007 would then be covered by Los Angeles’ amended rent stabilization ordinance.

  • “Recognize that the City needs more permanent housing that houses beds.” The LAT editorial refers only to the repurposing of hotels, motels and apartment buildings. He never mentions more federal section 8 housing funding since in Los Angeles only 400 people a year get Section 8 housing from an applicant pool of 600,000 Los Angeles must also follow the lead of the county, which passed an inclusive housing ordinance. The new law requires all new apartment projects to dedicate up to 20% of rental units to low-income tenants.

  • “Don’t flatter voters by only talking about enforcement efforts.” Local residents are knocking on the doors of elected officials to remove homeless encampments because city hall housing programs ignore the causes of homelessness. As a result, their programs routinely fail because local towns cannot extricate themselves from a worsening housing crisis on their own. Whenever officials respond to their loudest constituents with LAPD-enforced camping bans, their real message is that their housing programs enrich investors and worsen the housing crisis.

  • “Ending the fragmented approach to housing the homeless. City Council has adopted a city-wide approach to homelessness, the new housing element. » In theory, the new Los Angeles housing element presents a unified City Hall approach to the housing crisis, but in practice, City Hall lacks coordination and tracking to determine what works and what doesn’t. He also has a Plan to solve the housing crisis and a Homelessness Strategy Committee that meets monthly to implement this plan. How these and other fragmented homeless efforts can fit together remains a mystery.

What we don’t know is how long Los Angeles Times and local officials can shine with the public by repeatedly claiming that building market-priced housing will end homelessness. As evidence mounts that this approach increases, not reduces, homelessness, and since the LAPD can only move, not imprison, homeless people, public skepticism grows.

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA. He sits on the board of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles. (UN4LA) and co-chairs the Greater Fairfax Residents Association. Previous Planning monitoring the columns are available on CityWatchLA Archives. Please send your questions and corrections to [email protected] .)

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