Holiday Reminder: 3 Ways America Could Care for It’s Veterans Better

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is originally from Williamsport, PA and holds a bachelor's degree in English. She enjoys writing about health and social justice issues. When she isn't writing, she can usually be found curled up reading dystopian fiction or hiking and searching for inspiration. If you like her writing, follow her blog, So Well, So Woman.

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31 Responses

  1. Roger says:

    Wow, what a surprise, I disagree with something Kate wrote.

    Here is a better idea on housing affordability. First, stop all the regulatory BS and limits to growth which are driving up property values along the coasts. The federal government does not need to be involved in building affordable housing, they just need to be involved with not letting the government stop it from being built.

    Away from some booming cities, housing is actually pretty affordable in the heartland. I suggest those who want more affordable housing use their freedom to relocate. Building more public housing is not needed, and would end poorly here. Google Cabrini Green for an example. I used to be afraid to even drive by it. This ain’t Austria, Kate.

    Second, regarding homelessness in America, the root problem has little if anything to do with housing prices. It has to do with substance abuse and mental illness (both likely higher in veterans). The key here is not public housing, which would be taken over by gangs and allowed to squander by the mentally unstable, it is treatment centers and shelters. Anyone refusing to use such shelters and caught committing vagrancy should be sent to a shelter immediately. Repeated violators, unfortunately, should be incarcerated or deported out of the metro area. The only good way to deal with people defecating in our streets, parks and waterways is zero tolerance.

    My third disagreement is with Kate’s issues with fragmented and decentralized approaches to the issue of veterans aid. I have no idea why she believes a giant centralized bureaucracy would be better suited to the issue. My guess is that this is just her innate bias on the issue. I probably am biased the opposite way. She mentions we currently spend 50 times as much already on VA programs as nonprofits, but her concern is somehow that we need MORE centralized spending and less local. I fail to follow her logic.

    This probably isn’t the place to take on health care spending, other than to reinforce what I said almost ten years ago on this site when I suggested that there is no better way to screw up an already screwed up system than Obamacare. As predicted, it is in a death spiral with increasing premiums, increasing deductibles and OOP amounts. Only the employed, the poor or the rich can afford it in now, and it will continue to get worse every year as only those who are most in need remain in the individual market. Health care is a complete and total fluster cluck.Report

    • JoeSal in reply to Roger says:

      “Create an environment in society where the only solution will be Socialism”

      -it’s right out of the leftist playbook

      We’ve been over the economic gear works of much of this 3 or 4 times, which is why I think not many were commenting.

      Yet a new day arises and what was discussed last time is a complete mystery for some reason.

      Good to see ya Roger.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Roger says:

      “The key here is not public housing… it is treatment centers and shelters.”

      I agree. Veterans who merely have low incomes are easy to treat, relatively speaking.

      The reason homelessness is so pernicious is our refusal, as a society, to devote the resources needed to construct and staff mental health treatment centers and shelters.

      Because unlike just constructing buildings, the cost of treatment centers is wickedly high, demanding full time highly trained and expensive staff.
      And as you note, there needs to be a backup of security to enforce the mandated treatment.

      I would hazard a guess that nationally, this cost would easily run into the tens of billions.

      Which shouldn’t be surprising, since history tells us that repairing the damage from a war is often more expensive than fighting it in the first place.Report

      • JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        Huh, maybe someone should write down on paper the results of maintaining standing armies, and the results of engaging in foreign entanglements.

        Maybe also the ever increasing costs of regulating and socializing stuff.

        So people who don’t know about it can read about it a long time into the future……like next tuesday.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Roger says:

      “top all the regulatory BS and limits to growth which are driving up property values along the coasts.”

      yeah, do that, Millennium Tower really worked out great, right?

      you’ve got a heck of a long way to go before “build more properties duuuhhhh” gets you a reduction in costs to the point where your typical homeless vet can afford an apartment.Report

      • Roger in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Actually, I agree. The point is that housing affordability (which the links define as more than 50% of income and thus implies regular income) is addressed via less interference in growth in housing stock. Homelessness is explicitly addressed via shelters and treatment centers and zero tolerance for vagrancy.

        I honestly believe that most of the money localities in Calif are spending on homelessness is in fact incentivizing more homelessness.Report

      • Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck says:

        you’ve got a heck of a long way to go before “build more properties duuuhhhh” gets you a reduction in costs to the point where your typical homeless vet can afford an apartment.

        True, but that’s because we’ve dug a very deep hole for ourselves. The solution if you’re in a hole is to stop digging. Until we do stop digging, nothing will work and it’s just going to get deeper.Report

  2. Dark Matter says:

    I was in Europe this summer and ran across more than one homeless “camp”. To be fair if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have known about them… which implies they have some way to control public begging.

    However, let’s check and see who is doing a better job:

    The USA has 0.17%
    Sweden 0.36%
    Germany has 0.37%
    United Kingdom 0.46%
    France 0.21%

    Russia officially claims 0.04% (external sources put the number at 100x(ish) that).
    Jordan claims 0.0%

    When I read about what they’re trying to do, it sounds a lot like our situation where local interests are creating the problem.

    Right now a number of countries are going into “rent control” as a solution which should probably be viewed as “clueless”.

    California on the other hand has launched a $1 Billion job effort to build “affordable” housing for its homeless, and it’s currently estimated that it’s doing so at a cost of $600k per unit.

    We need to let the evil developers build a lot more housing in general.Report

    • Roger in reply to Dark Matter says:

      This is an extremely informative comment.

      It is hard to take political extremists like Kate seriously when their “solutions” tend to lead back to more problems which always results in the benevolent government assuming control. What I find even stranger is the tendency of a subset of extreme libertarians such as Bryan Caplan to do the same thing. Open borders is a sure fire path to massive increases in homelessness and increases in state initiatives to address it compassionately. I can see why socialists would love the idea of open borders. But libertarians should know better.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Roger says:

        Aren’t treatment centers and shelters an example of benevolent government taking control?

        A serious, not a gotcha question.

        Because no one, not right left or center has ever devised a minimal, low cost and effective way to drastically reduce homelessness.

        The people who are homeless are by their very definition, people who demand a tremendous amount of public resources, regardless of how you treat them.Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Aren’t treatment centers and shelters an example of benevolent government taking control?

          They are, and we’re not sure what the solution is here.

          We closed the mental hospitals because of the expense and the horrific abuse stories that were coming out. Abuse means the “benevolent government’s” minions indulging in rape and torture. Similarly a lot of the local zoning/structural roadblocks towards building housing are regulatory capture of the government.

          Part of the answer is the understanding that the government, by its nature, isn’t “benevolent”. It’s big, powerful, and works with the machinery of law enforcement but people are going to do what they’re going to do, and that includes sadists and power junkies getting jobs where they can have fun. It also includes politicians doing what they do to get elected.

          There are multiple tiers of homeless, some (perhaps many in your neck of the woods) would be helped a lot if we just had cheaper housing which is a demand/supply thing with the gov as the source of the problem. This is the “down on their luck” tier, the “give me a job” tier, and the “will fix themselves within a year” tier. Unless we’re talking about children who depend on problematic people, they tend to not be homeless for very long.

          Other tiers of the homeless have serious problems to the point where they’re not able to have a job or even interact with people, i.e. the issue is drug addiction and/or mental illness.

          It’s certainly possible to envision the well run, well financed hospital to treat [X] problems that will help the hardcore homeless without any cost to themselves… the reality is a lot messier and will remain messier.

          When our political class needs to choose between pensions for people who vote and people who don’t, that will be an easy choice. There are also structural problems when we are trying to force good choices on people who big picture don’t make good choices. There will be funding issues. There will be issues in terms of preventing the solution from abusing those you’re trying to help. There will be issues with bad actors abusing the system.Report

          • greginak in reply to Dark Matter says:

            Having actually worked with seriously mentally ill people with a goal of keeping them out of hospitals it can be done pretty well. They need housing subsidies, long term in person support, mental health treatment and health insurance. All those things work really well to keep people off the street and out of hospitals. All that stuff is only, or at best mostly, provided by government. Well that how things have done historically and i never heard anybody actually doing the work think there is a for profit solution.

            Drug treatment for poor people is not profitable. If they dont’ have insurance they depend gov funded treatments which are lacking. You want enough drug treatment for people only the gov will fund/pay for it one way or another.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

            Which is why I keep coming back to the fact that there is no solution which doesn’t involve massive doses of government power and money.

            Right now I see the LAPD and the city jail function as defacto mental health ward, at enormous cost to taxpayers.

            It is actually more expensive that medical treatment and housing assistance; But as I mentioned in the police thread, the public prefers to spend ten dollars on police rather than one on treatment.Report

            • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              It is actually more expensive that medical treatment and housing assistance;

              Yes, there are aspects to this which involve gov power and money.
              Yes, they even should be done.
              No, that doesn’t imply this is entirely a fixable problem. The gov has a budget, the amount of money we’re willing to spend is (I suspect) less than what a true total fix would entail.
              And no, “housing assistance” only works if there is housing.

              That last part is seriously important, if you structure the market so that it’s impossible to build, then you get the most bang for your buck by fixing that rather than throwing money at the problem. Case in point, California is going to spend a Billion dollars to build homes for the homeless… but at $600k a pop that won’t go far.

              A huge part of the solution is to get the gov to do a lot less in terms of obstruction (which probably has a cost of around zero or less since it’d create a lot of economic activity).Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                You’re doing that thing again, assuming that with fewer restrictions the cost of housing would fall precipitously, but I don’t see any evidence to suggest that.

                Rents are driven by construction cost and land prices and even absent any regulations, those aren’t amenable to government control very much.

                But in any case, don’t you think it is ironic that when the government wants to create housing, it does so?
                Case in point, the tent cities constructed to house immigrants, and the prisons constructed to house prisoners.

                Yes, they are wildly expensive, more than even market rate apartments. But somehow, the political will was found, the budget was found, the ability and wherewithal was found to construct them.

                No one goes around saying, “Gosh, there are immigrants and visa scofflaws and criminals roaming the streets but we just can’t seem to find the money to do anything about it!”

                When society really wants to do something, it finds a way. When it doesn’t, it finds an excuse.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                assuming that with fewer restrictions the cost of housing would fall precipitously, but I don’t see any evidence to suggest that.

                The developers are claiming these restrictions are a serious problem and the root of the problem. Occasionally they post the details on how it works and it’s pretty convincing when you get into the detail weeds. Year long projects get turned into decade long projects because everyone is allowed to appeal the process. Restrictions on how much space needs to be used for a room result in fewer units which means they need to be sold for more. Restrictions on how many floors can be built result in fewer units per square foot of land which means the units you can build must cover everything.

                Saying “there’s no evidence” is simply nonsense. These restrictions are doing exactly what they’re supposed to, which is prevent the creation of housing.

                Yes, they are wildly expensive, more than even market rate apartments. But somehow, the political will was found, the budget was found, the ability and wherewithal was found to construct them.

                At $600k a pop to build “low income” housing, every Billion dollars gets you 1700 units. At that rate you can house all of California’s homeless for something less than a Trillion dollars, or roughly a third of California’s GDP.

                Or you can change the zoning/process rules which make this so expensive.

                And yes, that’s not going to be enough. After you change the rules you’ll need things like drug treatment (etc). However at $600k a pop there is no path to success.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Given that I am in the real estate development industry, I would be delighted to hear a credible breakdown of the cost that land use restrictions impose on rents.

                The only time legal limits on height or density become an issue is localized pockets where demand is hot and supply limited.

                But most of the time demand is hot, only because supply is limited.

                If suddenly high rise towers began springing up, property values would fall. That’s why NIMBYs fight so viciously!

                I’m not saying restriction have no effect; Its just that they move the needle on rents very little.Report

              • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Chip, buddy, this is incoherent. If property values plunge then rents plunge. If the restrictions in California were lifted and high rise towers sprang up in the dense high demand areas then values, and rents, would decrease or at the very least stagnate. As you correctly note that is exactly why NIMBY’s fight so viciously against development as they benefit enormously from high property values (their properties are worth more) and from high rents (their properties generate more income for them). I mean sure they also don’t want more crowds of people, obstruction of their views and changes in their neighborhoods but the property values and rent impacts are their biggest concern (albeit one they hide).

                We know that more building can control housing costs. The Japanese and the Europeans have done it in lands more geographically constrained than California suffers. California, however, has insane building restrictions that keep people from building denser housing and insane property tax rules that lower the opportunity cost of keeping their lots single family. But localized pockets in California? Isn’t that describing entire swaths of some of the best employment prospect real estate in the country? Isn’t Silicon Valley still largely suburban in nature currently? It ain’t that way because no one wants to live there or because building timber, steel and concrete is magically a thousand times more expensive near San Jose.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to North says:

                Your first paragraph seems to just restate my comment, that increased density can lower rents, but also at the cost of lower market desirability.

                Again, I really am quite in favor of high density housing- My job depends on it, its what I do for a living! A lot of good things would flow from increased density, not just rents but an improvement in the environment as well.

                But increased density isn’t a magic potion to cure the affordability gap. It can at most be one tool in a large arsenal.

                Even in Silicon Valley, the return on investment of an apartment building has to pencil out and compete with all other investment opportunities.

                Meaning that the distance that an ROI can fall is limited; Once it falls to be less than some other investment like equities then the money flows there, and the project doesn’t get built at all.

                So unless all the other variables like construction cost and land fall as well, increasing the number of buildable lots will only have a minor affect on rents.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Googled: the cost that land use restrictions impose on rents.

                Google’s first link:

                It in turn has lots of links that should work for you.

                Google’s other “hits” also seemed full of things which would answer your question.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Sigh. I’ve seen these before.
                Lets start with this one:

                The author asserts the the regulatory burden can be calculated as ” the difference between marginal production costs and
                market price”;
                That is, if the sales price is $600/ft, and the hard construction cost of building another foot is $200, then the regulatory burden is $400.

                This is absurd. Regulatory costs, like construction costs themselves, are stepped, and relatively fixed within brackets.
                For any given building type, they should properly be thought of as like land prices, which are a fixed cost spread over the entire project.

                Meaning that the regulatory cost of building a 50 story is about the same as a 40 story. So logic says you may as well build the 50 story since the marginal regulatory burden is zero.

                Which is the opposite of his premise.

                Nowhere in his paper does he bother with trying to suggest a mechanism by which the regulatory burden contributes to half of the sales cost.

                Is it delay? Higher cost of materials? Labor? He doesn’t delve into that.

                Which is the central and enduring flaw in all these sorts of studies; they arrive at an estimate of regulatory burden by abstract indirect means, with non sequiturs as the driving engine.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Which is the central and enduring flaw in all these sorts of studies; they arrive at an estimate of regulatory burden by abstract indirect means, with non sequiturs as the driving engine.

                When our NY landlord kicked us out, we moved the office a block. The old landlord was going to throw out all the office furniture and approved us just taking it. To do so would have cost us more than a thousand dollars. Regulations required a four man union crew for a half day to press the button on the elevator. When you ask around in NY everyone has stories like that. Measuring that sort of overhead requires “abstract indirect means”.

                Similarly when a project takes years to get the needed “approvals” because everyone who is opposed to housing is allowed to appeal, it’s hard to see how all the costs are measured. It’s equally hard to see how this doesn’t increase the cost of doing business.

                If that’s not the connection we need to think high costs cause heavy regulatory burdens rather than vise versa.

                What we shouldn’t do is look at very high costs to do business and then proclaim it’s because the costs are high to do business.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Delay of a project is a real cost, probably the only one I’ve ever seen articulated.

                But lets think of a project as an investment- a certain sum is invested, then a return stream of income generated.

                The sum invested during the entitlement process is usually in the neighborhood of 5% of the total investment; the other 95% doesn’t get input until the actual start of construction.

                Delays in entitlements only push the larger bulk of cash investment/ return further out in time. That money is still generating income during the delay.

                So the delay cost is the loss of interest income that smaller portion would have generated during the delay time.
                Which can be substantial! Just not the crippling amount some people claim, and definitely not the scale that would consume half of all the cost.

                If entitlement delays were reduced to zero, there would be savings- but just nibbling at the margins, not wholesale reductions.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I take a loan out to buy land, the project is delayed, I still have to pay the bank. I also have to pay for “environmental studies”, lawyers, and whatever other shakedowns the system has in there.

                The money I’m investing in this (which has a negative cash flow at this time, maybe even for years) could be put into something that has a positive cash flow.

                Further this is assuming my time and my effort has a value of roughly zero. Value my time at roughly the same as the lawyer and the cost is even higher.

                At the end of this process, the answer might be that we have to start over with another set of delays or the project is simply shut down so there’s “risk”.

                So I’d have to have very deep pockets, and be very determined, and make a huge amount of money in this to make it all worth the effort…

                …and what’s missing in this is whether or not the process also makes sure I can’t make a lot of money. If I have to make “affordable housing” for the privilage of doing this, then that’s eating into my profit a lot. If I’m limited in the number of units I can make then that also reduces the amount of profit I can make.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Which is why no one takes out a loan until they have their entitlements.
                And inclusionary requirements never amount to more than a couple units, if any.

                Again, these are real costs, just nothing near half of rents, which is what that guy was claiming.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                So we expect developers to buy land for cash? And tie up that cash for years? And that’s going to have a trivial impact on the supply of housing?

                A report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office found that in the state’s 10 largest cities, CEQA appeals delayed projects by an average of two and a half years.

                Now that’s the environmental laws’ red tape by themselves and is only one part of the regulatory thicket. However 2.5 years is beyond a serious problem right there.

                What we’ve got is various studies saying the regulations are a serious problem. The various developers saying the regulations are a serious problem. Serious regulations going hand in hand with serious housing supply issues.

                And if in spite of that, we want to blame “Construction Costs” as the “real” reason this is a mess, then let’s go into why they’re higher.

                Construction costs
                The higher cost of construction due to government fees, labor, and materials:

                Greater government-imposed development fees for building a single-family home than in the rest of the country. (The California Legislative Analyst’s Office reported it to be 266% greater, $22k vs. $6k).[1]:14 For example, the developer planning to redevelop the site of a former Naval Hospital in Oakland with a residential community of 935 homes will be paying $20M (= $21k / home) in fees to the City of Oakland’s affordable housing fund.[52]

                Higher cost of labor, because of both prevailing wage laws and that often projects are only approved if union labor is used. (Estimated at 20% more by the California LAO.)[1]:13[53][54] The contribution of prevailing wage requirements to total construction cost has been estimated to be as large as a 40% increase.[55]:1

                Higher material costs, due to building codes and standards requiring better quality materials and higher energy efficiency.[1]:13

                Same link. All of those reasons sound a lot like “regulation” as well.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                When you buy land for cash, that investment generates rental income during the delay period.

                Which is why developers only tear down the existing structures at the moment they need to start construction.
                So the “cost” of the delay is the difference between the two income streams.

                As to construction cost, yes union and prevailing wage projects are higher.
                But that doesn’t explain the private sector work that uses market wages.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                …that doesn’t explain…

                :Shrug: You asked why I think the gov’s heavy mis-regulation is responsible for the majority of the problem and I’ve answered.

                Each of these factors is going to lower supply and/or increase costs. They’re also going to work together synergetically. They’re also going to be passed along via second order effects which we’re not even trying to evaluate here.

                Presumably this isn’t the only issue, but extreme market disfunction in combo with extreme gov disfunction doesn’t need lots of other factors to explain what we see.Report

  3. Michael Cain says:

    After reading the comments, I have a question: “Why should vets get cheap housing in California?”

    Detroit and St. Louis are literally bulldozing houses that could be refurbished for far less than the $600K it costs to build an apartment in California. There are wide swaths of the Great Plains where houses sit empty. In some GP cases, the town will give you the house if you agree to live in it and pay the (very modest) property taxes. My understanding is that most vets get to choose where they muster out. Why not add incentives so they choose to muster out where housing costs are low?Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I have a semi-serious proposal to create a New Homestead Act, whereby the federal government confiscates those vast tracts of unused lands or dying small towns across the Midwest and West, and gives away parcels free to the poor.

      The response I get is “Why would anyone want to relocate to a place where no one wants to live, and where there are no jobs?Report