The Prime Directive: How Do LA’s Rich Get Richer?

BELL VIEW-Years of banging the podium at City Hall for my allotted sixty seconds of screaming into the abyss have taught me one basic truth: Whenever a problem -- or a "crisis," as most problems are referred to these days – needs fixing, the people trying to fix the problem have to answer one question before anything can happen. Not "How do we fix this problem?" or "How do we solve this crisis?" Not "Where do we get the money?" or even "Can this problem be solved?" The first question that must be answered before absolutely anything can happen in 21st Century America is "How will the rich get richer?" 

Before we decide what we're going to do to, say, cure cancer, or save an endangered species, or stop the planet from killing us off, we, first, need to figure out how the solution is going to make the rich much richer. 

Luckily for us, our elected officials have been working hard at coming up with an answer to this central question of our time. 

War, for example, is a no-brainer. The rich always get richer off of war. War makes money coming and going. The rich get richer blowing things up. Then get richer again putting things back together. The rich have even figured out how to get rich on things like addiction, disease, and poverty: just declare war on them and the cash starts rolling in. 

And say what you will about the qualifications of our current Secretary of Education, at least she has solved the basic conundrum of how the rich get richer off of public education. 

Unfortunately, once the rich have taken their share – there is almost never much left to solve the problem we wanted to solve.

On the local level, the rich have a juicy housing crisis to feast upon. You don’t need a degree in economics to figure out how the rich get richer off of a housing crisis. But homelessness – ah, that’s been a tough nut for the rich to crack. How, exactly, do the rich get rich off of the homeless? For the longest time, I struggled with this question. 

Now, it looks as if Mayor Garcetti and the City Council have found a solution. Remember the $1.2 billion we decided to raise for the homeless in Measure HHH? Remember how the bulk of the funds were earmarked for “Supportive Housing” – the kind of housing the chronically homeless need? The drug addicted, the mentally-ill, the elderly. Remember being told that no more than 20% of the funds raised would go to “affordable housing” – designed to help people who had not quite ended up on the streets, but were headed in that direction? 

Well … that’s no fun at all. And, since it doesn’t make the rich richer, it was basically a non-starter. Now, it turns out, only 50% of the “supportive housing” needs to be supportive housing – and only 50% of that needs to be reserved for the chronically-homeless. Get it? So the 80% of the $1.2 billion that was supposed to be used to help the most desperate of LA’s massive homeless population will now be sliced up into smaller and smaller chunks with only about 25% of it going to the people it was meant to help. 

When I lived in East Hollywood, a real do-gooder rehabbed an old apartment building and put a dozen formerly-homeless families into real homes. These are families with kids that were living in their cars before they got a hand up. No one in the neighborhood even knows the place is "homeless" housing. It's a model that could succeed all over the city. 

But the threesome cooking crack in a tent in the alley behind this place? They're not exactly candidates for this type of solution. 

So, when someone tells me that "studies show" the homeless do better when they're integrated into the community -- I don't disagree. I just need to point out that not all the homeless are the same. Anyone who thinks people are going to pay market rent to live down the hall from a crackhead are smoking something.  

No. Something tells me this new market-based solution to chronic homelessness will peter out just after Job One is accomplished. The rich will get richer and the truly desperate homeless will still be looking for a place to land.


(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.