The report was written by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and comes a day before President Trump is expected to visit California. A number of senior White House advisers visited California last week to study the increase in homelessness there, and they have spent months discussing what role the federal government could play to intervene. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is also expected to visit the state this week as part of the push.
In a call with reporters about the report, titled “The State of Homelessness in America,” acting CEA chairman Tom Philipson repeatedly highlighted homelessness in California, particularly in Los Angeles, and blamed it in part on state and local policies. Trump has recently directed his aides to figure out “how the hell we can get these people off the streets,” according to one administration official.
Philipson said in the call that “policing may be an important tool to help them get off the street,” although he did not elaborate on what that might mean.
Asked for clarification, a senior administration official said that there are “lots of policy options” being considered.
The Washington Post reported last week that administration officials are considering razing tent camps, creating new temporary facilities or refurbishing government facilities as part of Trump’s directive on homelessness. Senior administration officials previously also said that forcing people into new facilities was not under consideration.
The CEA report released Monday says: “Of course, policies intended solely to arrest or jail homeless people simply because they are homeless are inhumane and wrong. At the same time, when paired with effective services, policing may be an important tool to help move people off the street and into shelter or housing.”
The report blames high homelessness in part on “more tolerable conditions for sleeping on the streets” and notes that homelessness may be lower in states that “engage in more stringent enforcement of qualify of life issues, like restrictions on the use of tents and encampments, loitering, and other related activities.”
Some housing experts rebuked the administration over its proposals, arguing that officials should instead expand federal housing subsidies that could enable the creation of thousands of additional low-income housing units.
“Their policy prescriptions completely miss the mark,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Deregulation, increased arrests and further criminalization won’t end homelessness. Affordable homes — and the federal subsidies that make them possible — will.”
The report also repeatedly calls for deregulation as a potential solution, arguing that higher regulations drive up the cost of housing and therefore the cost of rents.
The CEA report says deregulation could reduce homelessness by an average of 31 percent, projecting that with deregulation, it would fall by 54 percent in San Francisco, 40 percent in Los Angeles and 23 percent in New York City.
Trump has put California’s homelessness in the national spotlight, and the issue is widely covered in conservative media. The number of families sleeping on the streets or lacking adequate housing has jumped in most major California cities, climbing at least 25 percent over the past several years, said David Garcia, policy director at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California at Berkeley.
Some housing experts agreed with the White House’s contention that overregulation has played some role in the crisis, but they also argued that the administration’s analysis missed the prime driver of rising housing costs and homelessness.
“It’s demography and job growth patterns that are driving the crisis, in the absence of national housing policy to boost production,” said Jerry Jones, policy director at the Inner City Law Center, which performs legal and tenant services in Los Angeles.
It is unclear what role law enforcement could play in the coming push. Last week, Trump administration officials met for an open-ended discussion about homelessness with the Los Angeles police union, according to an official with direct knowledge of the meeting, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
At that meeting, administration officials asked how or whether the federal government could help local authorities take homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles and into a sanitary place where they could access services including showers and meals, the official said.
Administration officials also asked about the “skid row” section of Los Angeles, where homelessness has recently skyrocketed.
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