“It’s insane,” says a Los Angeles business interest group spokesman. “It isn’t going to solve the problem.” That never stopped LA voters and politicians from pursuing redistributionist policies before, and might not stop it this time either. Voters will soon decide whether to, as CNN puts it, require hotels and motels to offer vacant rooms to homeless people:
If voters give the green light, every hotel in town — from a suburban Super 8 Motel to glitzy hostelries like the storied Biltmore — will be required to report vacancies and welcome homeless guests who have a voucher from the city. The hotels would be paid market-rate for the rooms. The measure would also have implications for developers, who would have to replace any housing knocked down to make way for new hotels.
“They don’t seem to understand who the unhoused are,” says Petersen of hotel industry opponents. “We’re talking about seniors, students, working people — that’s who the voucher program would benefit the most.”
How to handle the city’s worsening housing and homelessness crises are principal planks in every campaign for local political office. In polls, more than half of LA voters say tackling homelessness is their number one concern. The county’s homeless services agency has an annual budget of over $800 million, which is spent on everything from counts to counseling, from shelters to permanent housing.
Hotels and motels already do that, of course, but this proposal would put those decisions in the hands of government officials:
They offer rooms to them now … at the going rate.
What LA voters will have to decide is whether to seize their property and redistribute it under government mandate. https://t.co/regsoNqz3m
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) August 26, 2022
Be sure to watch the whole clip to catch just how insane this proposal would be — and how insane its advocates get. Kurt Peterson, who led the effort to get this on the ballot, calls opposition to this plan a kind of Jim Crow. “We don’t want to head backwards into the segregated south,” Peterson tells CNN at the 2:55 mark, “but that’s kind of the language that they’re talking about.”
No, my dude, this is not at all the language of the Jim Crow South, where rentals depended on skin color rather than cash. No one in Los Angeles is arguing for a skin-color-based exclusion to public-accommodation laws. The opposition to this measure is arguing that an ability to pay is a legit criterion for exclusion, which it always has been in every public accommodation context. And while seniors and students comprise part of the homeless, so do addicts and the mentally ill, who act in very unstable ways — and whose presence will chase off regular paying customers, not out of prejudice but out of rational fear for safety and security.
The response to the ability-to-pay argument is that the city will pay a “fair market” rate for the rooms. Who gets to decide that, however? Will the city pay the rate set by the hotel owners, or a rate they decide is “fair market”? And will the city indemnify hotel owners against the property damage and eviction issues that will inevitably result when people who have no economic stake in their housing act out, as shown in this clip? Don’t bet on it.
Hotels didn’t create the homeless problem in Los Angeles, and they’re not the solution for it either. LA’s ridiculous housing market, building restrictions, regulatory environment, and refusal to enforce vagrancy laws all contributed to the problem. The national decision to end commitment centers for the mentally ill plays a major role in this crisis as well. Maybe the city should start working on those issues before seizing and redistributing property to paper over their real failures … or maybe just build more homeless shelters themselves in the short term.
If this passes, California will get more housing thanks to people leaving the state, which is a trend so noteworthy already that the state government is putting up billboards begging people to stay. This may convince a lot of people not to come to LA for vacations as well. In the long run, California may solve all its problems by convincing people to stop being Californians. Let’s see if Angelenos lead the way.