Consultants, architects, construction companies, and others profit from planning and building new housing for the homeless, says Soledad Ursua, who serves on the Venice Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles.
“I see it as just a big racket where everybody has their hand in the pot. It turns out that the homeless are just big job creators; everybody is making money off this very vulnerable population,” she told The Epoch Times’ “California Insider.”
Ursua lives in Venice Beach, which has the largest homeless population in the city outside of Skid Row. She and her council estimate the number of homeless have doubled there in the past year, since the last point-in-time count of about 1,100.
The increase is for many reasons, she said. Budget cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department have resulted in lack of enforcement and patrolling. Laws have downgraded drug possession penalties. Health agencies have guided authorities not to move homeless encampments amid the pandemic. And there’s a sheer lack of will to solve the problem of homelessness in light of the profit to be made as more taxpayer money is pumped into it.
“They have no incentive to solve this crisis, because if they did, they would not have a job,” Ursua said.
She highlighted the $1.2 billion allotted by Proposition HHH in 2016 to create 10,000 housing units, along with interim shelters. LA Controller Ron Galperin found more than 30 percent of the money went to soft costs, including consultants and the like, Ursua said.
In a Sept. 2020 report, Galperin stated, “Nearly four years after voters approved spending a billion plus dollars to reduce homelessness, only three new housing projects are open, and most won’t begin welcoming homeless Angelenos for two, three, or even four more years.”
Many of the units cost more than $600,000, he said.
Ursua spoke of the Reese Davidson Project being considered in Venice Beach, which would cost some $700,000 per 450-square-foot unit. She said that doesn’t take into account the cost of the land (she estimates the true cost could be up to $1.2 million per unit).
“The value of the land is astronomical, and that’s given to these developers for free,” she said.
The project planned to use HHH funds, but those have dried up. So, it’s focused on Proposition 2 funds, aimed at the mentally ill, Ursua said. Thus, the main floor will be like a mental institution, she said, with housing units above it.
“They’re building around the incentives, not for the community [interest],” she said.
Ursua described the changes in her neighborhood over the past few years. “It has been complete lawlessness and just a breakdown of civilization,” she said.
“There are people who are living in tents, RVs, they are surrounded in their filth; there’s feces, there’s needles on the floor. They’re living in squalor.”
Aggravated assaults are on the rise, and residential burglaries are up 26 percent in Venice Beach, she said. Drug dealers and homeless people alike are duking it out in turf wars.
She gave the example of a 71-year-old man attacked in broad daylight by a transient looking to steal his bike. He died of his injuries. She mentioned a graduate student visiting from Arizona who was raped and left dead near the boardwalk.
Ursua said of the homeless population: “These are incredibly vulnerable populations. There are some that suffer from serious mental illness. Those people are a threat to themselves and others.” Among them are working families who are struggling, she said.
Many don’t want to go into the shelters because of people there with mental illness who are potentially dangerous, and because drug dealers have a strong presence there.
Meth is the drug of choice for many in the area. With Proposition 47 passed in 2014, many drug possession crimes previously considered felony offenses were downgraded to misdemeanors. “It’s turned into a real catch-and-release issue,” Ursua said. “It’s just a slap on the wrist now.”
There’s new bridge housing in the area (where people can stay as they transition into permanent housing)—154 beds in a tent set up at a cost of about $8 million. But it’s mostly empty.
“People don’t want it, because you can’t do drugs in there,” Ursua said.
However, when the city is looking at metrics for success, they consider it a success if a transient is listed as residing in the bridge housing and also on the street. So, on paper, the housing might look more full than it is, she said, but the actual structure isn’t being put to use.
Ursua lives about a block from the bridge housing. “There are now tents outside of bridge housing. … There are at least 50 new tents outside.”
She said the community was told no new tents would be allowed, and a police car was assigned to patrol the housing. That car was lost amid police budget cuts, she said.
Ursua highlighted a shared housing program she thinks is a better solution.
Instead of new construction, it involves pairing up homeless people and getting them into existing residential buildings as roommates. She said it gives them mutual support, a sense of community, and that’s better than putting one person alone in a small unit.
“They have a plan in place to shelter 2,000 people for a cost of $8 million,” Ursua said. “That proposal has been given to our councilmember. We do not know what the status of that is. But if we wanted to take care of the unsheltered population right now, we could.”
She doesn’t think such solutions will be adopted, however, because “there’s not enough money to be made.” Some officials will not consider solutions that don’t involve new construction, she said. They have trade union constituents who want construction projects.
Affordable housing developers pocket a percentage of the project costs, she said, which gives them a monetary incentive to keep project costs high.
“We pay so much money to live here,” she said. “When developers are building at $1.2 million a unit, they’re driving up housing costs.”
She suggests full audits and greater transparency for all projects to address homelessness. She wants to know what the exact costs are, whether the contracts are being fulfilled, and what the metrics are for success.
“California has really become a draw to homeless from other states. That’s because meth is legal and you can sleep on the beach,” Ursua said. “Even if you built 10,000 units, more people will come. We’ve created this environment where you’re just furthering drug addiction.”
“California Insider” is an Epoch Times show available on YouTube.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.