Most of Donald Trump’s political career has been spent promising to protect American citizens from immigrants, so it was odd to hear him stand up for foreign real estate investors Tuesday as he considers a crackdown on American homelessness.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening. And I’m speaking to tenants – in some cases foreign people, foreign tenants – but they have where they’re tenants in buildings throughout various cities in California, and other places … where they want to leave the country. They can’t believe what’s happening,” Trump told reporters traveling with him on his way to a fundraiser in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Homelessness is a huge problem, particularly on the West Coast. It’s also where the Trump Organization owns real estate, including a share of 555 California Street, one of the tallest buildings in San Francisco. Trump said Tuesday that homelessness is hurting real estate investment because, he said, foreign investors want to leave the US.
“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,” he said.
But what exactly he’ll do remains something of a mystery, although there are some clues.
During a call with reporters Monday, the acting head of the Council of Economic Advisers Tom Philipson said “policing may be an important tool to help them get off the street.”
The federal government does not generally police US cities. That’s a role left to local governments. The specter of a federal police force entering California to deal with homelessness would cause all sorts of problems, especially since cities in that state have already pledged to be sanctuaries from federal agents cracking down under Trump on undocumented immigrants.
Philipson made the comments about policing as the administration released a new report on its view of homelessness, particularly in California, where a large portion of the country’s unsheltered homeless people live. The main policy proposal the report suggested was to deregulate housing markets, which the report argued would lower housing prices. Trump signed an executive order in June that creates a new council under Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson that would explore ways to change building regulations and zoning laws to make houses cheaper.
The administration’s report on homelessness also suggested that places with so-called Right to Shelter laws have higher rates of homelessness and argued these laws are counterproductive.
The Washington Post also reported Tuesday his administration is looking at abandoned government facilities as an option to house homeless people.
Trump promised action on the homelessness issue before his trip out West.
“We are going to have to step in and do something about it,” he told a gathering of House Republicans in Baltimore last week. “We can’t allow it. And in the not too distant future, you are going to see we are going to step in.”
Trump’s involvement with foreign interests in his buildings is well documented and perhaps to be expected in the world of high-priced real estate. He talked in 2015 about selling apartments in his buildings to Saudi Arabians.
“I get along great with all of them,” Trump said of the Saudis at a 2015 campaign rally in Mobile, Alabama. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!”
He’s also once bragged about making a huge profit when he sold a Florida mansion to a Russian billionaire.
This isn’t the first time a Trump concern with the poor has coincided with a family business interest. In the tax law passed in 2017, Republicans and the Trump administration sought to spur investment in poor areas by giving tax breaks in so-called opportunity zones. That provision was pushed by presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who owns an interest in a real estate company making use of them. A CNN review in 2018 showed investments in opportunity zones do not always focus on poor areas.