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Basic Housing Grants to Reduce Homelessness in Los Angeles

April 25, 2024 / By Gary L. Blasi, Benjamin F. Henwood, Sam Tsemberis and Daniel Flaming Download

Public policy in Los Angeles has long been blind to the fact that the central problem for many unhoused people is that they are extremely poor. The focus has been almost entirely on the supply of affordable housing and short-term responses that still leave many people homeless, with virtually no attention given to income—the factor that determines whether housing is affordable and available.

The consequence of this focus on only half the problem is that Los Angeles has created a very complex, bureaucratic, and expensive system that struggles to find even “interim” housing for those who are unhoused and succeeds in moving only 12 people per day into permanent housing.  That system ignores the potential of many unhoused people to solve their own housing problems if they had a little more money.

While government has been limited to the standard market for rental housing, an unhoused person with money has immediate access to both the standard and informal housing markets. Informal housing means housing that does not conform to the standards of the formal housing market. It includes shared housing arrangements, housing that does not meet all code requirements, and rooms rented in single-family homes. The median rent in California in the informal housing market is $450 a month.

We cannot afford not to do better than the current system, which spends a huge amount of money to house a small fraction of those in need. Direct cash subsidies could help move tens of thousands of currently homeless Angelenos into housing at a far lower cost per person than our current system.

With a stable place to live, formerly unhoused people have an improved chance to find employment or apply for federal disability income benefits, which can make a subsidy unnecessary.

Press Coverage

Monthly payments of $1,000 could get thousands of homeless people off the streets, researchers say
By Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times (April 30, 2024)

Four top LA academics want to give the city’s homeless population $1,000 a month in taxpayer cash with no strings attached
By Dolores Chang, Daily Mail (April 30, 2024)

Area of Work: Economy, People
Tags: Basic Grant, Behavioral Health, Chronic Homelessness, Cost Avoidance, Cost-Based Priority, disability, Early Intervention, Employment, Equity, Health, Homelessness, Housing, Income, Los Angeles, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Opportunities, Poverty, Prevention, Public Costs, Risk, Unemployed, Unhoused, Welfare, Work