President Biden's Infrastructure Program: Part 1: Homelessness
A few months back, I wrote "What should a domestic Marshall Plan/21st Century New Deal look like?," suggesting a bunch of sectors where focused federal government investment could make a big difference.
Charlie commented that a key element of the New Deal was moving capital from Wall Street to the nation's interior, which was starved of investment capital in general. This is a huge point.
There are plenty of journal and other articles as well, both old and new ("Learning From the New Deal—For the Next Recovery," Atlantic Monthly).
There is a lot of criticism of President Biden's proposed program ("Biden Details $2 Trillion Plan to Rebuild Infrastructure and Reshape the Economy," New York Times, "White House Issues State Infrastructure Grades," US News & World Report), and the planner in me would say that there needs to be more serious planning before moving forward, and innovation.
For example, I wrote a bunch of pieces after Obama was elected, suggesting reorganizing federal agencies to better address urban and rural development issues.
But reading about the New Deal and taking into account the reality of the Republican response to government generally and Democratic proposals specifically: in effect -- "Can't do. Won't do. F*** you" -- it's not possible to do this kind of planning because all it does is provide more time for the opposition to organize.
In such cases, planning makes it easier to stymie. See various writings on the concept of "vetocracy", e.g., "A few steps to overcome American 'vetocracy"," San Francisco Chronicle.
(Which is tragic because it makes it difficult to develop the necessary support base to help ensure ultimate success for the program.)
And sadly, the way that government works now, it's so hard to create a program to begin with, that there isn't the concept that programs can be improved over time, with experience, because it's almost impossible to get enough votes for a "technical modifications" bill.
The process is very bad.
The Interstate Highway System as a counter example. By contrast, the process by which the federal government "created" the Interstate Highway system took more than 20 years, and it wasn't because of President Eisenhower's experience as a young military officer.
First, there was the development of technical ideas and a campaign for the idea of highways, in part spurred on by the example of Germany. For example I have a copy of an issue of Fortune Magazine from 1936, with graphics showing how freeways can be designed.
Second, building on such efforts, and Congressional mandates, in 1939, the Bureau of Public Roads released a plan, Toll Roads and Free Roads, for the Interstate Highway System.
Third, in 1944, Congress authorized but did not appropriate funding for the proposed system subsequently refined (Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944).
Fourth, in 1956, Congress appropriated money to build the system ("Congress Approves the Federal Highway Act," US Senate), recognizing that in those 12 years between authorization and appropriation of funds there was plenty of organizing and lobbying ("Origins of the Interstate System," FHWA).
And this doesn't even count the 25 or so years it took to build the bulk of that system, and funding its maintenance, which is an issue now, both with the failure to increase gasoline excise taxes very much, the effect of inflation on maintenance, funding new projects, and the transition from fossil fuel powered motor vehicles to electric vehicles that don't pay excise taxes on motor fuels.
Biden doesn't have 20+ years to pass an infrastructure bill. At most he might only have two years.
Homelessness and affordable housing as infrastructure. So, WRT "homelessness," last week a HUD press release stated that "HUD ANNOUNCES $5 BILLION TO INCREASE AFFORDABLE HOUSING TO ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS."
But for me, speaking of planning, it sounds more like "same old, same old." This is the downside of not being able to plan, and having to develop consensus on what to do, when so many different interests have such vastly different opinions and approaches to dealing with the problem.
One key element that is needed is a massive program to build single room occupancy housing in major metropolitan areas, ideally in places with high quality transportation. At the very least, most major cities need thousands of units of this type of housing, not a few dozen or even hundreds of units, but thousands.
Granted, I often criticize people for believing the solution to complicated problems is "this one thing."
I don't believe that building SRO housing is "the one solution that will end homelessness," but lack of such housing, at scale, is a significant reason we have the problem we have.
For the most part, post-war housing and zoning policies made such housing illegal. Without the right type of housing for a significant segment of the homeless population, obviously it becomes a serious problem.
It will only get worse, because housing will only get more expensive, making it that much more difficult for people on society's margins to be able to get and pay for housing without extranormal public support.
For example, the 148 unit Mark Twain Hotel in Chicago cost $23 million to buy and $20 million to renovate, and ongoing operating subsidies because most of the tenants are extremely low income ("Iconic Mark Twain Hotel Converting to Affordable Housing in Chicago's Gold Coast Historic District," Multifamilybiz, "After nearly $20 million facelift, Near North Side SRO unveiled as affordable housing ‘done right’" Chicago Sun-Times).
Labels: affordable housing, homelessness, housing market, infrastructure, provision of public services, public/social housing, real estate market, social and human services, social infrastructure, social programs