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EDITORIAL: California bungling its homeless spending

Los Angeles is in the midst of a homelessness crisis — a crisis that Mayor Eric Garcetti says could have been averted if only his city had more money to spend.

As KABC-TV reports, Mr. Garcetti blames cuts in federal and state affordable housing funds that blocked the city’s access to $20 billion “in this last decade that could have kept people from becoming homeless.”

Given Mr. Garcetti’s pricey plan to create permanent housing, however, limiting his access to taxpayer funds might not be the worst thing in the world.

According to USA Today, the city’s most recent homeless count found 27,221 people living “unsheltered” in tents, cars or the open air. In 2016, Los Angeles voters passed a $1.2-billion bond measure, backed by Mr. Garcetti, aimed at creating permanent housing units for up to 10,000 of those needing shelter.

The problem? The units that the city plans to roll out next year are ridiculously expensive.

Per the city controller’s office, a handful of homeless people and low-income senior citizens will be given keys to 72 new apartments — complete with a fitness center — built in trendy Koreatown at a projected total cost of $690,692 per unit. Two other projects currently in the pre-approval phase are expected to exceed $700,000 per unit. Both of those figures are greater than the county’s median sales price ($618,000) for a home.

“This kind of cost is utterly unacceptable,” Controller Ron Galperin told USA Today. “I believe we need a fundamental course correction.”

While Mr. Garcetti has promised to build 10,000 units in the coming years, as NPR reports, nearly two-thirds of the city’s budget has already been committed and only 5,000 units have been approved. As the city is doing less with more, other agencies — devoted to helping the city’s homeless today, and not just in the upcoming years — are finding ways to do more with less.

For example, the Rev. Andy Bales, CEO of the city’s Union Rescue Mission, told USA Today that his facility is taking a far more cost-effective approach by building a large fabric structure, complete with heating, air-conditioning and access to clean restrooms. The structure, which is expected to last for decades, will provide beds for 120 women who are currently sleeping on air mattresses in the chapel.

“I am not only shaking my head at the lack of progress over the last three years,” he told the paper, “but I am shaking my head over how much money has been spent and how little there is to show for it.”

As one critic described the situation to USA Today, Los Angeles is “buying Mercedes-Benzes and Cadillacs when they should be buying Fiat 500s.”

But should this fiasco really be any surprise? The city’s plan is yet another example of the inefficiency of the public sector. When government officials use other people’s money to try to spend their way out of problems, they are doomed to fail more often than not. And those who need help from the government are doomed to go without it.

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