Gale Holland, writing for the LA Times, describes how homeless people in LA were given tiny homes. The homes were ingeniously built and distributed by Elvis Summers, who used to be homeless himself. His actions were in response to failed promises from the city to create permanent housing for the homeless. However, unlike the city’s slow response to provide housing, it quickly confiscated the homes and plans to destroy them.
Apparently, just because you own a home doesn’t mean you have any right to it. This is a heartless move by a city government that does not have any plan in place to ameliorate the growing homeless population in the city, estimated to be 30,000 people according to the article. The city classified the tiny houses as “bulky items” that could be impounded by the city immediately. While it would seem reasonable to want to keep sidewalks clear, it speaks to an inherent inequality of property rights; in this case -land.
Think about it: everyone who owns a home is in possession of a “bulky item” as defined by the city ordinance. But the city does not tell them to clear off because they are on their own private area of land. But the homeless do not have a private area of land because they cannot afford to rent or buy one. And since they cannot afford to buy or rent a piece of land, their private property is not guaranteed to be protected in the same way that those who can afford land. In other words, the sanctity of all private property is, in practice, conditional on owning land.
The tiny houses that were given to the homeless were the result of voluntary donations of money, time and construction. Once given, these houses are the private property of these people. But without land to call their own, their private property is subject to confiscation and control in ways that people who own land are not subjected. Without the ability to control any private possession, this means that the very existence of the landless is subject to the permission of those who own land.
One commenter on the story suggested that the city government allow these landless people to put their tiny houses on city-owned property that was not a sidewalk. At present, the homes are awaiting being stored on a public lot while the homeless sleep on the street. Letting them live on the lot or elsewhere sounds like a good idea, as it balances the needs of the landless owners of tiny houses with the needs of residents who would like to use the sidewalk relatively unimpeded. But the same commenter also said that their houses should be subject to random searches and seizures, for drugs and weapons, apparently because society needs to monitor the landless like we would a prisoner in their cell. Yet, the same items could be, and often are, stored in homes on privately owned land.
Once again, a person who can afford an area of land would be getting more rights than someone who could not afford land, namely Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. Given that any solution will necessarily involve the landless to be on public property, they will have to give up rights that are afforded to other members of the population for the “crime” of being too poor.
For those with the money and the credit up front, they will receive large tax breaks and other government granted benefits, while working class renters and homeless people receive no such tax benefits.
What is the solution to this problem? There must be a remedy that establishes a right to land for all people, and thus a multitude of other rights that accompany it. The solution is to not give special financial benefits to those with the money to own land. Instead, landowners should pay a fee for the value of their land, a value that exists because of public investment in infrastructure and maintenance services. The value of the land should then be distributed evenly as a Citizen’s Dividend, or a “basic income” as some call it. This will enable those who are landless to purchase a small piece of property. This will insure that everyone has a right to a space where their person and property will be protected.