In a 41-page White House report, the Trump administration took direct aim this week at California’s homelessness problem, saying the state’s “heavy regulation” of local housing markets is major factor.
The president’s Council of Economic Advisers writes in the report that cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles could cut homelessness by 54 percent and 40 percent, respectively, simply by easing a number of regulations that the White House contends raise the cost of construction.
It’s unclear how the Trump administration arrived at those numbers. The report is short on specifics about how the two big cities could reduce the homeless population by that much.
Carolina Reid, assistant professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, said the Trump administration’s claims are not accurate.
“I have no idea where they got that 54 percent from.” Reid said. “That is not an evidence-based number. I do think San Francisco could reduce its homeless population in half, but it would take a multi-pronged approach recognizing it’s a regional problem. It would require funding, not just regulatory shift. It would require expanding housing supply and investing in mental health services.”
During a flight to Mountain View on Tuesday, Trump spoke with reporters about California’s homelessness crisis, saying he’s exploring the creation of a task force to look into the issue.
“We have people living in our… best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings and pay tremendous taxes, where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige,” Trump said, ...and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave. And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up. And we’re looking at it, and we’ll be doing something about it.”
The Trump administration does not make clear in its report, however, which regulations it would cut in San Francisco and Los Angeles, nor does it offer a specific pathway to loosening housing rules.
The report cites a June executive order in which President Donald Trump blames “regulatory barriers” for restricting the supply for affordable housing. It lists “overly restrictive zoning and growth management controls; rent controls; cumbersome building and rehabilitation codes; excessive energy and water efficiency mandates; unreasonable maximum-density allowances; historic preservation requirements; overly burdensome wetland or environmental regulations,” among policies as ones the White House would lift if it could.
Rachael Slobodien, a spokeswoman for the economic council, acknowledged the report doesn’t specify which regulations should be relaxed by local governments.
“We do not specify which specific regulations would need to be relaxed. Our analysis simply relies on regulations being relaxed such that home prices fall to home production costs,” Slobodien said in a statement. “That said, effectively addressing all of the barriers listed in the Executive Order would be a productive way for localities to accomplish this objective.”
California does have tougher environmental regulations than many other states. The Legislature recently approved a bill that would cap rent increases for tenants. Other laws mandate that developers build homes with solar panels, and direct utilities to use renewable energy.
It’s also true that builders say Trump’s own economic policies are raising the cost of housing production in California. The California Building Industry Association estimates tariffs have driven up the cost of an average-size new home by $20,000 to $30,000.