Bob Solomon on Affordable Housing

UCI Law Board of Visitors Member Mitch Kamin interviews Professor of Law Bob Solomon on affordable housing policy, social justice, and COVID-19. Introductions by UCI Law Dean L. Song Richardson. Recorded on June 25, 2020 via Zoom virtual presentation. Part of the UCI Law COVID-19 & the Law lecture series.

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UCI Law Talks · Bob Solomon on Affordable Housing


  • Bob Solomon

    Clinical Professor of Law
    Co-Director, Community & Economic Development Clinic

    Expertise: Community & Economic Development, Housing, Evidence, Trial Advocacy
  • Mitch Kamin

    Partner, Covington & Burling LLP

Podcast Transcript

[Narrator]: Welcome to UCI Law Talks, from the University of California, Irvine School of Law. Join us on Twitter @UCILaw.

[Song Richardson]: Good afternoon, everyone. It's my pleasure to welcome you to this presentation in UCI Law's COVID-19 and the Law Series, and today's topic is affordable housing. Before introducing our speaker and our moderator, I want to recognize the UCI Law team that assisted in developing this program, and they are Rebekah Bergeron, Jillian Henry, Naomi (formerly Pedro) Aguilar, Dennis Slon, and Mary Ann Soden. Thank you so much for bringing us all together. So our speaker is Professor Bob Solomon, and we are so fortunate to have Professor Solomon on our faculty. He joined our faculty in 2011.

He's a clinical professor of law, co-director of the Community and Economic Development Clinic, and co-chair of UCI's Center for the Study of Cannabis. Professor Solomon's clinic focuses on issues of community and economic development in low- and moderate-income populations. The clinic emphasizes non-adversarial and transactional approaches to advocacy, although the students also litigate matters when necessary. Students in the clinic address issues related to homelessness, small business and nonprofit development, and policy initiative designed to improve their client's communities.

Many of the clients reside in mobile home parks and much of the clinic's work revolves around helping them with the problems they face. So the clinic has represented farm workers living in substandard parks in the Coachella Valley, low income residents concerned about park management practices in San Bernardino, and residents seeking to purchase and operate a park in San Juan Capistrano. Prior to arriving at UCI Law, Professor Solomon directed clinical studies at the Yale Law School. For five years, he also led the city of New Haven's Housing Authority.

And then prior to teaching at Yale, he was a legal services attorney and had the benefit of being a generalist with an enormous amount of client contact. And during that time, he came to believe that problem solving was the most important specialty in the practice of law. So as I mentioned, we are so incredibly fortunate to have Professor Solomon here at UCI Law. And with all of his diverse experiences, Professor Solomon has seen the issues around affordable housing from many perspective over many years, and he'll be sharing some of his knowledge with us. So thank you so much, Professor Solomon, for joining us this afternoon.

[Bob Solomon]: Thank you, Song.

[SR]: Today's moderator is Mitch Kamin. Mr. Kamin is a partner at Covington and Burling LLP in Los Angeles. He represents media, entertainment, sports, and other companies and a wide range of civil litigation, and he is also co-chair of the firm's commercial litigation practice group. Mr. Kamin also maintains a robust pro bono practice. He's the immediate past chair of the board of directors of One Justice, which is an innovation lab focusing on legal services in California. It develops networks and applies creative problem solving and design approaches to the thorny question of how to increase legal services for those in need.

From 2003 to 2010, he was president and CEO of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which is one of the leading nonprofit legal organizations in the U.S. Mr. Kamin currently serves as vice chair of the board of commissioners for the L.A. Homeless Services Authority and previously chaired the board of commissioners for the Housing Authority of L.A.. He's a graduate of UC Berkeley and of Harvard Law School. Thank you so much, Mitch, for joining us.

[Mitch Kamin]: Thanks, Song

[SR]: I just want to share one personal note before I turn this over to you to begin our program. I feel like this is a version of “This Is Your Life” for me because I knew Bob Solomon when I was a student at Yale, and it was so great to join the faculty with him when I arrived in 2014. And then Mitch and I, I won't say even say how many years ago it was, that he and I first met when we both worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund doing capital habeas work. I won't share what we did during one of our trips in the South. So anyway, it's so great to see both of you, and I'm really looking forward to today's program.

[MK]: Thanks, Song. It's always great to see you, and we always have the memories from those many years ago. But thanks for all you're doing at UCI Law School. It's really remarkable.

[SR]: I have to mention one thing, Mitch Kamin is also a member of our Board of Visitors. Sorry. That's a very important point. Okay. Go ahead, Mitch.

[MK]: Thanks and proud to be. So Bob, I'm really excited to be here with you and to learn from you. We had a chance to catch up briefly before, but why don't we start with you just kind of laying the groundwork and explaining your perspective on how housing and homelessness fit into issues like health and poverty and racial justice.

[BS]: Thanks, Mitch. Well, we've known for decades that the easiest way to improve people's health is to improve their housing, and yet we're constantly talking about healthcare without talking about housing. It is ironic that at a time of a pandemic, we seem to be making more efforts to treat people who are homeless and to treat to avoid the health problems. And of course, we do that by housing them. I will say that the first time I walked into a homeless shelter along with law students was 1986, and it was a pretty humbling experience. I had been a legal services lawyer for 13 years.

I was used to representing tenants and tenant groups and the thought of not having a place to sleep at the end of the day, and if you did in a shelter, that you had to leave at 7:00 or 8:00 the following morning and cope with the day and somehow you were supposed to find a job and work, and if you had children, go to school. That's totally insane. So we know that not only does housing affect health, but it affects whether your kids go to school. It effects whether or not you can keep a job. And if you are in substandard housing, which is better than being homeless, it still means that your housing problems are with you 24 hours a day.

When we were out in Coachella with farm workers, one of the things we saw that is if it rained during rainy season and the mobile home leaked, you couldn't work that day. You spent the day fixing your roof. And these were people who were working a lot harder than I have worked any day in my life. I did have two weeks where I dug ditches before I was fortunate enough to get another job. And believe me, I did not want to go to that ditch digging job. So housing is incredibly important and yet we put it last on the list. We treat the housing market as though it works. It works better than a lot of markets. Most people are housed. Most people have hot water. Most people have clean water, but too many people don't have any of those things.

[MK]: What do you make of the trends in recent years? There are more and more resources at least in Southern California going into creating long-term supportive housing and homeless services, and yet the numbers of people experiencing homelessness have been increasing despite more being housed than ever before. So what's your sense of the scope of the problem and the causes of it right now?

[BS]: Yeah. Well, there's more than one problem. And if you read anything I've written, I'm always against cookie cutter solutions. And that's the problem with HUD. I ran a Housing Authority for years and HUD is always looking at the solution, and there's not a solution, but you mentioned supportive housing. And for many people, particularly single people who are homeless, supportive housing is an answer, and it ties in pretty dramatically with the discussion of the defunding the police.

I think the phrase “defunding the police” is going to be something that for the next two years we're all going to say, "Okay. What do you mean by that?" So here's one thing I mean by that when I say I support the defunding the police. I think the idea that I support would also be supported by most police, at least the police I've talked to over the years, which is that they're spending too much time trying to control the homeless, where the homeless are, moving people. We often hear the phrase "if your only tool is a hammer, you need to hit everything."

I think the other end of the phrase is actually more important, which is if you define every problem as a nail, then you need to buy a lot of hammers to start hitting those nails. And we define too many problems as questions of social control. So if you have a store, you don't want homeless people hanging out in front. Frankly, that's sort of reasonable, but you need to provide another place for people to go. Supportive housing works and there's many studies now saying that supportive housing, which by the way is housing plus services. What services? It depends what you need.

It may be services to help you prepare meals. It may be services to help you do some activity. It may be job training. It may be medication control. If you provide a minimum of housing, often congregate, often single room occupancy, something hopefully better than a shelter, but even a shelter, and you provide those services, you reduce emergency room expenses, you reduce prisons, you reduce other kind of police social control that we're doing on the street. There are several studies that show this is revenue neutral, which means it really is not a big expense.

Now, developing this housing is not easy and it goes very, very slowly. And developing any housing my students will hear are my mantra, without site control, you're just an academic talking about an idea. And by site control, I mean the ability to claim some kind of ownership interest even an option for $1 that will let you go to people and say, "I have a right to this land. Here's what I want to do." If you don't have site control, everyone thinks, that's very nice. That's a cute idea. Cute ideas are great. Academic writes about them all… all year we write about them.

But site control is the key. We have two projects in which our clinic was able to get site control and now both of them are owned by residents or tenant groups, organizations that are controlled by residents. That's the goal. Let's control the housing.

[MK]: What's the ultimate goal of the long-term affordable housing strategy? And the reason I'm asking it that way is because you mentioned shelters being potentially adequate. And in Los Angeles, there's a Housing First strategy as opposed to New York, which I'm sure you're familiar with in your time in New Haven, where there's a Right to Shelter strategy. And that strategy has been critiqued as not being one that will actually break the cycle of homelessness as contracted to a Housing First strategy.

[BS]: I think that's a fair critique, and I'm not a fan of looking at shelters as permanent housing, but I was a fan in our community of housing people in tents at the Great Park because the tents were better than what people had now. If you walk through the Civic Center at Santa Ana or the riverbank, as a lot of people did more than I did, but I did, you saw housing that was just... It wasn't housing. It was untenable. I remember talking to someone who said, "Well, tonight's a hot night. I think I can sleep outside my bag," like that was a good thing. Well, it's all pretty comparative.

But the idea of tents was move from tents to a shelter, move from shelter to supportive housing. The housing continuum is critical. As far as what's the long-term goal, we don't have a long-term goal. We don't have a strategy. We have never had a housing strategy in the United States that was a uniform project. We had a strategy for developing the West, which would give away some land to some people. We had a strategy for building railroads, which would develop towns along the way. We had a strategy during the depression for putting people to work by building public housing.

We have never really had a housing strategy. And by the way, to the extent that we almost had a housing strategy, you might say 40 acres in the mule was the strategy that in 1865 seemed to be working in islands off of Savannah. And that was the idea of reparations and of developing a system whereby everyone would have the reparation would be the ability to have decent housing and decent work, and we took that away. Who got reparations? White slave owners. So the strategy has always been we're not going to care about whose at the bottom and whose at the bottom is not just income related. It's race related.

[MK]: When you're talking a strategy, you're talking about a nationwide strategy. And I want to hear what your ideas for it are because I know you have some and also how to pay for it.

[BS]: So yeah, how to pay for it. I have two slides. I'm not too in favor of doing a lot of slides, but I will show a slide. And what the slide is going to show is that our current tax system is basically a bad policy. It preferences the wealthy with tax exemptions. And I was going to say, in my mind, I say it's a bad policy, but the truth is it's a scam. It's welfare for the rich. So we need to do away with welfare for the rich, and I'll show that in a minute.

But let me say one other thing that we have, we have an enormous problem in the three states I know best, Pennsylvania where I started as a legal services lawyer, Connecticut where I worked for a lot of years, and California, and I'm sure it's true in 50 states, and that's the local control. Every community wants to control and that means that in New Haven and Hartford and Bridgeport in Connecticut, we crowd in people of color and low-income people and we surround those with wealthy suburbs that will not allow people to come in.

We have Greenwich, Connecticut, which is worse than Newport because we have five acre zoning. I don't think you can have five acre zoning in most of Newport, but we have all kinds of mechanisms to keep people out. We have very few to keep people in. When we hear about the Democrats’ proposal for subsidies, people are shocked that, well, this could cost $50 billion a year. So where are we going to get $50 billion? We have the mortgage deduction. People can deduct mortgage interest from their taxes. Everyone thinks this is a great thing for the middle class.

In fact, only something like 10 percent of people are not using the standard deduction now. The mortgage deduction is a great deal if you are paying a mortgage of $750,000 or more. You got to be pretty rich to have a mortgage, not even the house value of $750,000 a year. This is about $50 billion a year and let's say roughly $35 billion of it is going to people who are already wealthy and do not need the tax deduction. We have the charitable deduction, which is all but eliminated for most people by the recent tax act. The charitable deduction is about $35 billion a year. Where does it go?

It's about $50 billion, but about 75 percent goes to education. So we sit here and we think that... Oh, there it is. We think that education...

[MK]: I was able to get it for you.

[BS]: I know. I'm too jumpy here, sitting here and talking. So I appreciate that. Look where it says charitable contributions. Seventy-five percent goes education and we think, well, that's great that people are giving to education. But they're really not giving to your local neighborhood school and people are not giving around the country. The next slide is good. I'll get to that in a second. The first slide just shows how great the need is. When we talk about 75 percent for education, we're talking about Yale's $28 billion endowment.

And so if someone gives $100 million to Yale, which happens, that means that the federal government is contributing $60 million of that. That's not really where our funds should go. It's fantastic that Michael Bloomberg gave $3 billion, with a B, to Johns Hopkins to make it tuition free. But that's not really where we need the funds to go. If we made a policy decision, we would put it into state schools.

We would put it into the Cal State System and to the UC system, into state schools, traditional Black colleges, traditional state land grant colleges because we can show by statistics that for the last 60 years, those are the schools that brought people into the job market. Those are the schools that helped increased wealth in a way that only education and housing has done over the years. If you look at capital gains on home sales, again, that's going to largely wealthy people. The more expensive your house is, the more capital gains you're going to get.

And I'll look at one more before we move on, reduced capital gains and dividends tax. The whole notion of this $160 plus billion, and this is every year, is that if we give this to an individual, they’ll reinvest and that will help everyone. It will all trickle down. A rising tide raises all boats. Well, the truth is it does if you have a boat. If you don't have a boat, it doesn't help if the tide is rising. And if your boat leaks, it doesn't help either. So it's going to start trickling down. It's never going to reach the bottom. And the question is, do people really reinvest with this tax money?

It's up and down. It's a question. But why are we allowing people like Bill Gates... I like his investment, his strategy. I like what he does. But why do we give him that kind of billion dollar tax benefit to make the decisions of where those funds should go? There is someone who donated $60 million to build a high school football stadium in Texas. That means that we, the taxpayers, paid roughly $24 to $30 million to build that high school football stadium. That's just insane. And the reason we continue doing this is because we're losing the war in Congress, but we're also losing the war of words.

We talk about the death tax as opposed to the estate tax. We talk about reinvestment strategies as opposed to welfare for the rich. These are great marketing tools. I always like to say the invention of the word muffin was a great marketing tool because it convinced people to eat cake for breakfast. I would never eat cake for breakfast, but I'm glad to have a muffin. No, I would never drink for breakfast, but a mimosa sounds great. So these are great terms and that's personal choice. I'm all for rich people donating money to their alma matters.

I'm not this welfare for the rich, which takes the decision away from the public. So the important part of this chart, which I can't see here, but is really the low income housing tax credit. And you see that's a nine. That's a maximum, by the way. It's not really nine because people are not investing in the tax credit anymore. Ninety percent of new affordable housing construction in the United States comes from the low income housing tax credit. Ninety percent, and yet we put only $9 billion a year into this and it's capped. None of these other things is capped. The entire proposed HUD budget is $48 billion next year.

It'll probably go up because of the pandemic, but it's not going to go up to 60. And all of the money we spend on Section 8 tenant vouchers, the single largest investment in subsidizing tenant rents is $23 billion a year. Our total tax expenditures is $1.4 trillion. That's every year. And can you bring up the next slide? So here you see where it goes. Of this $1.4 trillion, almost 25 percent goes to the top 1 percent in the country, people who need it least, and almost 59 percent goes to the top fifth. So this is just crazy policy. The money is there and there's lots of things we can do.

So we can go back to our faces. I'm not sure it's better, but there we have it.

[MK]: It is what it is.

[BS]: It is what it is. Exactly. At least we're well dressed. It's really not a question of money. It's a question of political will. It's a question of who is going to be making these decisions. It's a question of social control, and it's a question of whether or not we're going to have an equitable society. And by equitable society, every housing advocate will smile at this, we're not talking about bringing down wealthy luxury housing. It's just not our issue.

We're always talking about taking the very bottom and moving it up a few inches at a time until we get to a situation where everyone has water, where everyone's in healthy housing, where everyone has the opportunity to go to a decent district during the day. Those are pretty basic things, and this is not in any way a money issue. Anyone who says it is a money issue is frankly just lying.

[MK]: So the money is there, but what would be your thinking on how... Maybe I can use the charitable contribution as an example. How would you reallocate that benefit? Would there be a threshold in terms of who would still qualify and who would not? Where would the money go, and what would it be used for?

[BS]: Yeah. I'm in favor of means testing. I mean, I'm in favor of starting at the bottom and starting to move people up. As I said earlier, I'm in favor of reparations. I think fair housing goes a long way towards where we should go. I saw a poll today say 20 percent of the country is in favor of it and that's not a high number, but it's a lot higher than it was probably a few year ago. The notion that we're talking about this now when we should have been talking about it in 1865, which I guess we were in 1920 in Tulsa and other places, but we're where we are. Where should it go?

Well, for one thing, low income housing tax credit is a tax credit for wealthy people, but it does get them to invest in affordable housing. Currently people are investing less because with interest rates so low, it's just not as good an investment as it was. We should have a flexible means whereby we can increase the returns on a low income housing tax credit to get people to invest, and we should double, triple, quadruple the cap so that people start investing. We have a problem with the cost of land, and land in our community is extremely expensive.

We need ways to have commitments where the state can override localities and make decisions. We have a housing element in California which requires each town to establish a number that no one really listens to except for housing advocates and no one enforces, at least not yet. Those kinds of things need to be enforceable. We need to be able to take all the funds we use for the homeless. Prisons is very expensive housing, emergency rooms is very expensive housing, and we need to try to put those into funds.

I lived in for a short time, vacations in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, which is a wonderful, beautiful place. We bought a house and we were shocked to find out that we had a 2 percent tax which went into a fund for land trust. So basically I was required to pay a fair amount of money for a land trust, and Martha's Vineyard preserved land, but some of it went for affordable housing. That's just a local ordinance. It's not that big a deal when you come right down to it.

Every realtor in the country will want to write me hate mail for this and for the mortgage deduction, but the truth is housing cost are inflated because of the mortgage deduction. They're inflated because of land values, because of speculation. Those are two ideas. We need to have more inclusive zoning. We need to have ways to keep people in communities as they redevelop, and land trust is one idea. Cape Cod has a 10 percent requirement for inclusive zoning. You have to have 10 percent affordable housing.

I'll tell you one crazy thing I did when I was a Housing Authority director. A developer got a piece of land from the city. It was going to build what was considered luxury housing, 450 units on a site that probably shouldn't have held that many units, and they wanted investment from the Housing Authority in the form of Section 8 vouchers and cash. And so that was a way to put people from a Housing Authority list into fairly expensive housing at a low cost. And the issue was how much should we spend for this? And the developer wanted a 10 year Section 8 guarantee and I said, no, it's too short. Not that it's too long, not that it's too much money, but if we're going to amortize this, let's get a 20 year guarantee.

So in the end, we got 45 units and a 20 year guarantee and too much cash, at least some people thought it was too much cash. But from my perspective, we paid a premium to get this great housing for 45 families for 20 years. That's a political decision. It was largely mine, good or bad. Maybe it was bad. But those are the kinds of decisions that people have to make. Judge Carter's decision is a choice. It's a judicial choice, but it's largely a choice. I'm sick of people living in these terrible conditions. I'm going to force you to do something. Los Angeles is now forced to do something that would not be its first choice, but it is a choice.

[MK]: Right. So Judge Carter's decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by a neighborhood group concerned with homelessness and encampment. Judge Carter after some negotiations with the city and the county and the plaintiffs ordered the city and the county to find immediate housing options or shelter options for about 6,000 people living near and under freeway and overpasses. I mean, what he did makes me want to ask you about the impact of a situation like a pandemic, which is unprecedented, although things like recessions are not unprecedented.

But how do these sorts of events affect our ability to make long-term policy decisions? And so Judge Carter ordered one thing that was not exactly how the city and the county had been planning to deal with the situation long-term. There's also a statewide initiative I'm sure you're familiar with, Project Roomkey. Because people experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, there's an initiative to get hotel rooms and move people in as quickly as possible. And I think something like 6,000 or 8,000 folks have benefited from the program in L.A. so far.

But those initiatives and Judge Carter's order require resources and how does that affect our ability to have a longer term solution? I was going to say stay the course, but I think arguably we're not on the course.

[BS]: Maybe stay the current course. We've taken a couple of steps. I'm an optimist to the point of being a Pollyanna, so I'm always looking for what doors does this open and what's our possibility for the future? I described how there's money that I only talked a small amount of it. There's plenty of funds. But the real economic issue is that in times of need, you spend. You do go into debt with the expectation that you can repay in the future. And when we've done this during the depression, during the recession, it has worked.

Anything good that happened to the economy after 2007 happened in large part because of government willingness to spend funds to invest. Look at General Motors for one. Was that the right long-term decision? Yeah, probably. We did a lot with mortgage foreclosures in the state I was in and around the country and that cost money. That infringed on banks, but banks had no choice because they had so many other problems. And we invested in some banks, not enough banks. We didn't invest in South Shore Bank in Chicago where we should have put money in.

We didn't invest in community banking, but we invested in the big banks. And in the end, they all survived. I think the money problem is always a phony problem because we find it when we need it. California is a state that voted additional tax to put into higher education shortly after I came here, and that was remarkable because we were told that could never happen. So I think where there's a common will, funds are not the issue. How we spend funds is an enormous issue. The reason I like the low income housing tax credit and the reason a lot of my colleagues don't like it is because it requires private investment and some people think it's just another way to get wealthy people more money. And it is, but at least we are telling them where they have to spend the money. And it's on affordable housing and affordable housing as it developed and not only it's developed, but it's well-managed. As a director of a Housing Authority, housing management is hard. Running a homeless shelter is hard. It's really difficult. The dean is now dealing with how do you get people in and out of a classroom and they have to be six feet apart and some of them want to go to the bathroom.

That's hard. The logistics are hard. The daily things of how things actually run are a lot harder than the ideas I'm throwing out because I'm making them sound easy. But if you get enough people to want to invest in housing, that's going to develop funds that is going to lower the actual cost and make it feasible. We're going to have to find ways to get land. The state has the power to take land. And at some point, the state has to say, if you are not willing as a municipality to have a plan, then we are going to override you. We are going to step in, and we are going to take land by eminent domain, and we are going to use it affordable housing.

The power is there. The fact that we're in a pandemic means that police power is greater, not less because we have emergency needs. And the fact that we are now saying, well, yeah, homeless people are on the street and that suck for them, but we didn't really care that much. They're not deserving. And now we look at it as, oh, they're going to disease, so that is bad for us. Well, we should have not said the first thing, but I'm willing to take the second thing as a way to move forward because the issue is to move forward.

[MK]: We're going to leave the how to pay for it topic. Questions have been coming in, which we'll get to, but one specifically concerns Prop 13 and whether the government has the power in California but so do voters in terms of the initiative process. Is there a change to Prop 13 like a progressive property tax, meaning maybe 1 percent on your first home, but a higher rate on second homes? Maybe also a vacancy tax? Is there some sort of change in the California tax structure related to property taxes that might assist in these efforts?

[BS]: Yes. The question is a rhetorical question as far as I'm concerned. Prop 13 is a disaster. The elimination of the Redevelopment Act, which stopped taxing and financing, was perhaps a bigger disaster because that was a way of creating funds from the development itself. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, we had a system whereby municipalities could borrow money to develop certain things, including commercial things, and then use the tax increases in future years to pay off the bonds. I'm oversimplifying this. There was lots of corruption.

It was crazy system. But instead of reforming it, we eliminated it. It's a longer story. We try to reform it while eliminating it. The California Supreme Court in what I think was sort of a crazy series of opinions found that eliminating it was constitutional, creating the reform was not constitutional because it was a new tax. So we're left with the worst of both worlds. Property tax is one area. It's not the only area. So there are things that we can do. The state also controls a lot of land. The federal government controls a lot of land. We have military land.

There's all kinds of things we can do. I think the biggest opposition is from local communities. Same thing with cannabis. We think we have recreational cannabis, 80 percent of the state does not have recreational cannabis. And to the extent that people use cannabis as a medicine, what other medicine do you not have access to? Every other medicine you can get through the mail or delivered to your house. Not cannabis. You can't mail cannabis. Don't mail cannabis.

[MK]: Good advice. Speaking of law enforcement then, I wanted to circle back to your reference to policing homelessness and just talk a little bit about potential solutions. It seems that some contact between law enforcement and people experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are unsheltered, is inevitable. In L.A., we have tried to promulgate guidelines... We have promulgated guidelines that would discourage law enforcement from approaching people experiencing homelessness with a law enforcement mentality and more with a service mentality.

We've also changed the structure of programming, so that outreach workers are the points of contact rather than police officers. But I think it's particularly poignant in the moment we're experiencing to talk a little bit about how can law enforcement be a partner in these efforts to end homelessness? Do you think it's divestment from law enforcement is the right approach? What do you think about this issue? I know it's a big question.

[BS]: Yeah. Well, there's a reason we have police. As I said earlier, police are the hammer and so we have to identify what's the nail. If there is a serious crime or a crime, I want the police to investigate. I want the police to arrest people. I think that policing and law enforcement is a deterrent to crime. I believe that. I don't believe our penal system, which has been operating the same way for 200 years or 300 years, is a good one, but I do think that some form of a punishment and restraint is certain circumstances is important. That's where I start.

The notion that we are having dispatchers on 911 calls is largely a police problem. It's just probably not a great use of police services. The notion that we have way too much paperwork for police is not a good use of police time. I know that police do not like making domestic calls, and the answer is sometimes they should and sometimes they shouldn't. But that initial appraisal should not be from someone who automatically says, "There's a domestic on Elm Street," and the cops go, "Uh, a domestic."

When I was running a Housing Authority, every once in a while our local police chief would summon me to his office to tell me what I did that was wrong, like letting someone who was arrested for cannabis not evicting the right people. I can tell you what he wanted to do and didn't want to do. He did not want to police public housing. He did not want to police homelessness. And it wasn't because he was particularly soft, he wasn't. He just did not think that was a good use of police time and New Haven had for its size a substantial homelessness problem.

But New Haven also put a fair amount of its own money into a shelter which was incredibly well-operated. And even though it was not 24 hours, it was a place that people went. And people had to be sober to get in, and people had to do some services around it to keep it clean, and people cared about the space. When supportive housing people dragged me to a local supportive housing facility, I didn't know what to expect, and I did not think this was going to be a moment of a great epiphany, but it was. The place was immaculate. Everyone there had something to do.

And at one point, one of our group dropped a drink and one of the residents immediately got a mop and cleaned up. And afterwards I said, oh, we can do that, and he said, this is my house. I want to keep my house nice. Well, he wasn't on the street and he would have been otherwise. That's a humane way of treating people, but it's also a smart way of treating people. It's not just charity. It makes our world better. So that's just one element of what we do. There's all kinds of elements. How you treat people with mental health problems is very different than how you treat a family that's out of work.

There was a great study years ago on moving people from homelessness to work, from welfare to work. And the most important finding was that there's this magic moment when people get childcare and they're able to then stay at work. You know what magic moment is? Kids turn five and there's this incredible day care system called public schools. So what if we had the right to have preschool at age three, which by the way helps kids education. People who can afford it have preschool at three. Kids learn more and we free up people, especially single mothers, to work when their kids turn three if they want.

A lot of people do want that. We did accomplish a lot, and we spent our educational dollars a lot better than building a football stadium in Texas. I don't know how many people are building football stadiums in Texas, but I do know that a lot of people are giving a lot of money to prep schools and not to where the money really is necessary.

[MK]: Right. One last question from me and I'm debating which one it should be because there are so many things to cover. We've gotten five or six from our audience and I want get to those.

[BS]: They won't mind if we stay on for another hour.

[MK]: I took a look at an article you wrote in 2000 with your reflections of being a community-based lawyer, building on some of Gerry Lopez's thinking, which was very inspirational to me and continues to be. And I think it's resonant today when we need to consider strategies to be allies who listen and follow other's lead. So I just wonder how you... These are big questions and big issues and how do you keep your heart in the right place and ensure that you're partnering with those you are seeking to serve.

[BS]: Well, I've picked some bad partners over the years I will say. But I think if there is a single thing I am most committed to and I've been a lawyer for 48 years now, I have an article on this that I started in 2009 and will never be done, but it will part of my estate, but it won't be taxed, and that is you go into a community and you listen to people and you say, I'm your lawyer. What is it that I can do to help you? In poor communities, lawyers are not friends.

Poor people see lawyers because their landlord is evicting them, because someone's being arrested, because the state is interfering in the family, because there's a debt that's owed. And when people have access to lawyers, it's generally not by choice. It's by need and it's because there's a problem. And I think the great love that I have for my work is to go in and sit there and hear people say, "Here's our problem. Can you help?" Sometimes people don't define the problem right and you say, "I can't help, but I can help but it's a slightly different problem."

And that's good too because people need to know what you can and you can't do. And the other part is, one problem with the pandemic and with protests is that people justifiably want an immediate result. Results don't come immediately. Some results do, but I said that we were able to purchase two mobile home parks. Each project took eight years. I'm fortunate enough to have bricks in my office that represent $350 million in housing development and public housing redevelopment. And as someone has noted, that means that you had less units when you were done. Yes, we had less units when we were done.

So those are again hard decisions. But it takes time, it takes perseverance. It's frustrating, but it takes a belief I think that people in a community take the decisions for the community. They don't have to agree. People can make bad decisions. People make bad decisions all the time. But when we have top down decision-making, that means that we take people's communities and we put highways in the middle. That's not a good decision. It's a good decision for people living in the suburbs who want to drive through and never want to stop and get some good food, but it's a bad decision for the community. And we have to be more community oriented. We have to care about the quality of life for all people.

[MK]: All right. Let's spend our remaining time with some good questions we got. One is concerning gentrification. How do you advance affordable housing without a considerable amount of displacement of black and brown communities, is the question.

[BS]: The answer is we have lots of tools for that. The answer is you start by saying we are not going to displace people period. I'll give you my own experience where we were redeveloping a big site. We said, one, you have a right to return after development. You have a right to try to pick where you will live during redevelopment. We will try to do this in phases to keep you here, but by the way, not everyone wants to stay, so we are going to give you some incentives if you don't want to stay. Here's how you move people who are not committed to staying in a particular neighborhood.

One, you provide them a permanent subsidy, like a Section 8 subsidy, to help with their rent. Two, you pay people a fair amount of money as it turns out to help them relocate. And what that means... We call them in New Haven Home Finders. We paid Home Finders who got paid for successful relocations. And they literally took people around like a realtor would do, except with rentals and suburbs and school districts. Spent a lot of time with them and a fair number of people thought, it's good. I'd like to live here instead of where I was.

Now, as far as how do you keep people, almost every redevelopment needs government approvals and no government approval should allow massive displacement. So you start by saying, we are going to require that X percent, 10 percent if possible, 20 percent if necessary, is going to go to people who live in this community. We're not going to allow you to displace. And if need be, we might want to have a condominium kind of situation where we have the community land trust own some units. We might want a public housing agency to own some of the units. We might want it to be rental.

We have all of these different tools. We have to use them all. But I really believe that if you show me the puzzle of any particular development, I can show you how I would successfully keep people in. And sometimes it means we're going to do this over a long period of time because people do move out over time. Ten percent of a particular building may move every year and it may mean that we're doing this in phases. And if we can't do it in phases, it may mean we're paying people a premium.

Years ago, I had a situation where I...This is when I was representing a tenant group and developers were developing a building and they were creating a situation for people who live there which was just untenable, dust, noise. And I went to court to get an injunction to stop it. They, of course, yelled at me and said what will it take to get people to move? And I said my clients will move for $10,000. That was at the time a lot of money. And they said that's extortion, and I said, let me explain property law to you because here's why it's not extortion.

You are asserting that you have a property right in this building, which you do, and it allows you to redevelop. But your redevelopment is interfering with my client's property right, which is a leasehold. So we have contrary property rights and you're saying you want to do something that violates my client's property rights. So I'm saying, great, you have to pay for it and here's the amount. And amazingly the lawyer said that's actually pretty good. That's true. And so we settled. But the notion that that was an odd concept that I have to rights to develop as an owner, but the people who live here have no rights is, excuse me everyone, is just bullshit.

That's not what law is. That's a false view of law, and law should protect all people. The only reason laws don't protect poor people more is that they don't have lawyers. There's no money in it, so it's up to legal services lawyers and pro bono lawyers and clinics and other people. We do need more lawyers. It's almost hard to say that. Law schools have paid my salary for a lot of years now.

[MK]: The next question is what do you think about the recent lawsuits against the city of L.A. by landlords over the COVID-19 anti-eviction protection?

[BS]: I think they're going to lose. I will write a confession. I'm quoted in some paper as saying that forced rent abatements is unconstitutional as a taking. I think it is a due process violation. I don't think you can say to a landlord you can't collect rent. But we're in an emergency situation and I think you do have a police power. We were saying courts are closed for a lot of things. The notion that you cannot execute on a particular debt is very different than saying you can't collect rents.

The other side of it is I guess, I'm assuming, landlords will say well, because we can't evict, you're letting people stay rent free. And my answer to that is that maybe factually correct, but it's not legally correct. We are not stopping your right to charge people, and we are not stopping your right to evict at some point if they don't pay. There is an underlying question which should there be rent abatements? I think that renters should have ways to be subsidized in paying their rents. I don't think it should be at landlord's expense because that will just result in a very, very fast deterioration of housing. And landlords need to pay mortgages and banks will foreclose, and it's a bad cycle downwards. We need to subsidize at a different end.

[MK]: There are a couple of questions about the impact of COVID and our economic downturn on students. I'll read one of them. Recent studies show a significant number of college students experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. Any recommendations for working with local apartments, landlords, property owners to reduce prices, provide housing vouchers, create Section 8 housing near universities, et cetera?

[BS]: Yeah, all those are good ideas. As students, you are in a different category. My own view is student housing is part of an overall economic package. I was looking at the UCI endowment. It's $1 billion roughly. Returns over the last several years have been about 10 percent. That's $100 million a year. The current spending is 4.5 percent, which is $45 million a year. If UCI said we are going to subsidize all kinds of things, employees, students, for one year because of an emergency, we raised the spending rules by 1 percent. We freed up a pot of $10 million. I don't know if that's enough.

I don't know where it goes. That's just one idea of what you do in an emergency. There's a difference between a small landlord and a large landlord. The university I think should be very forgiving, preferably not loans. Students out there, you're already paying too much. So we should find a way to subsidize you. Large landlords like the Irvine Corporation in my view should be giving you rent abatement for two, three months. Why not? Well, that's not how capitalism works. But sometimes you say this is a charitable purpose. I'm going to do it. We need to find ways to protect every segment of our population. Students are a particularized population and there are different ways to look at it. I would look at it as an education package firm.

[MK]: Well, so many great ideas, so much to talk about, yet we've reached the end of our time. There were a number of requests for your slides. Would you be willing to share them with the participants?

[BS]: Yeah. I'll share them. But if people want to email me, I'll send them a larger deck that I use in class, which is more comprehensive and has better pictures.

[MK]: What is your email?

[BS]: Oh yeah. I'm on our website, but it's rsolomon, S-O-L-O-M-O-N,

[MK]: Okay. And I think the school can send the three slides from today to all of the participants just as a follow up.

[BS]: That sounds great.

[MK]: Really nice to get this chance to talk to you, Bob. I appreciate all your work.

[BS]: It was great to talk to you. I wish I saw people's faces. Hopefully some familiar ones.

[MK]: Hopefully some of them are smiling. Thanks again, Song, and thanks to UCI for organizing this. It's been a pleasure.

[BS]: Thank you.

[Narrator]: Thank you for joining us for UCI Law Talks. Produced by the University of California, Irvine School of Law.