Affordability & Homelessness: Can’t Get the Right Answers if We Ask the Wrong Questions

ALPERN AT LARGE--One way of preventing the answers to a problem is to ask all sorts of questions to distract the questioner and keep him/her stumbling off-balance. 


Often the distractor, usually with all sorts of straw-dog arguments, red herrings, and "wordstuffing" (shoving cruel, bigoted words into the mouth of the questioner that he/she would NEVER say or even think of saying) does so with naivete or lack of understanding of where the questioner is coming from, but more often the distractor wants to merely cow the questioner into silence. 

No more.

For example, this question keeps coming up from those in Sacramento and Downtown (think Gavin Newsom, Scott Wiener, Toni Atkins, and Eric Garcetti) who keep decrying those fighting for REAL affordable housing by the following rhetorical question:

1) How can we address a lack of affordable housing if we don't pass SB 50, you NIMBYs?

Firstly, those who fought and still fight the repeated iterations of SB 50 were never NIMBY's, have fought NIMBY's, and usually eschew the uber-wealthy who drove SB 50. If you want to find out who favors the rich elites, go with the list of people above who are overseeing MORE luxury housing and LESS affordable housing for years to decades in our cities and state.

Hence, the right question is:

1) How can we address a lack of affordable housing if Downtown L.A., San Francisco, and Sacramento keeps pushing for the favored elites who are making income inequality and class division worse?

The next question is often as follows:

2) How can we keep California's economy alive if we don't build affordable, middle-class housing?

Let's make it clear to the perps listed above (and they really are perps...just follow the money) that a few wealthy elites will NOT be enough to supplant the much, much larger middle-class with respect to the tax base that built California. 

From the Governor to the State Senate to the Mayors of big cities who want a few wealthy employers to magically pay for everything, everybody knows that THEY don't CARE about affordability of the middle-class!

Who pays the majority of transportation, education, police/fire, infrastructure, etc. taxes and fees? The middle-class. So, building and promoting McMansions and luxury suites over smaller and affordable middle-class apartments, condos, and homes is anything BUT affordable.

Hence, the right question is:

2) How can we keep California's economy alive when we are reducing affordable and working-class homes, and prioritizing luxury housing over middle-class housing?

Because if a teacher, small business owner, or nurse can't afford a home or apartment, it's NOT affordable.

In the interest of time and space, this article will be limited to a third question that MUST be answered, but is being asked all wrong:

3) Where are all the homeless going to live if we don't build more housing for them?

Here's where it gets dicey, because that question isn't all wrong...but certainly it's NOT right!

We have record low state and national unemployment, and yet record high homelessness in our cities and state...particularly in the coastal regions. If a given homeless person has ties to our area (family, job, etc.) that's one thing. 

But of those moving in from other states and making California the homeless capital of the nation?

Certainly, we can't arrest people who must live here, but must they all live here when affordability and job opportunities are better elsewhere?

Are those with mental health and drug addiction issues the same as those living in their cars because apartments are too expensive and their job is nearby and they don't want to move and pull their kid(s) out of the schools they've attended for years?

Is it cheaper to build housing inland? Why is building a unit for a homeless person up to $500-700,000 a pop? Are we creating an artificial "growth industry" of affordable housing for the homeless with politically-connected developers, rather than fixing the problem?

And didn't this state get built by those who came here with nothing save the shirts on their back? Why are the winners fighting to keep their decades of earned money moving OUT of the big cities, if not OUT of California altogether?

Hence, the right question is:

3) Why aren't the state and its big cities creating homeless policies to encourage housing where it's cheapest for them, and do Sacramento and our major cities really want to fix and discourage homelessness?

So long as we keep making the rule-abiding on the defensive, it prevents the rule-breaking from being sharply reduced, and so long as we give the rule-breakers more rights than the law-abiding, we're encouraging homelessness. 

If a homeless person has his/her faculties, then they can be helped (and usually do so on their own because they have free will, and adulthood, and self-respect). If it's a mental health/drug addiction problem, that's something else, but lumping all homeless together is just ridiculous. 

So, let's stop with the diversion and wordstuffing of those asking the RIGHT questions. Or at least call it out when it happens. We're on to you, Sacramento, and we're on to you, Downtown.

Maybe it's YOU who just doesn't care...but for those of us who DO care, it's up for us to not stop with the end of SB 50. Don't worry about the Orange Man in the White House--he's thousands of miles away.

Focus on the tyranny that's going on right here in our cities and state. Demand resignations or vote for new leadership.

And then the right questions, and the right answers, can begin in earnest.


(CityWatch Columnist, Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was (termed out) also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Outreach Committee, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee and Vice-Chair of its Planning Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)