Would-be homeless policy problematic

A paper commissioned by the University of Calgary suggests that paying people who own or rent property would combat homelessness.

The proposal, authored by Columbia University economist and professor Brendan O’Flaherty, is rife with flaws and would do little to alleviate the underlying causes of homelessness.

The paper, released on Monday, uses Calgary, Alta. for its case study. O’Flaherty argues that the Albertan government should levy a land-value tax on property owners, and use the proceeds to pay every individual for every day they’re in housing.

Meant to “reward good behaviour,” the policy aims to usher the homeless out of shelters and into apartments in order to collect their dividends.

The proposal has a simplified understanding of what it means to be homeless. Despite explicitly stating that many homeless people have “severe physical, psychological and occupational problems,” O’Flaherty’s entire premise is founded on the idea that with a monetary incentive, a vast cohort of homeless people will suddenly decide to move into apartments.

Securing funds to pay for first and last month’s rent comes first. Paying homeless people for living in a home doesn’t secure stable employment to ensure permanent housing.

O’Flaherty’s proposal also misses a step in its economic rationale. He claims that with fewer homeless people on the street, property values would rise and property owners would profit as a result of the tax they’ve been made to pay.

This neglects the next step though, wherein higher property values lead to higher rent prices, neighborhoods are gentrified and housing becomes more difficult to afford.

Even more problems arise with O’Flaherty’s criteria for eligibility, he suggests separating on the basis of gender.

Because men are more likely to become homeless, O’Flaherty suggests restricting the program to males as a means of simplification. It’s a suggestion that’s totally irrational and amounts to sexual discrimination.

The proposal to reduce homelessness is an all around flop. Without considering the root causes of homelessness, O’Flaherty prescribes a solution that won’t work.

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