Los Angeles’ Grand Avenue is home to an incredible display of the city’s capacity to build. On one side of the street stand two new gleaming towers replete with multi-million-dollar “residences,” a luxury hotel, trendy restaurants, and high-end shops. The architect, Frank Gehry. The cost, $1 billion.

Across the street is Gehry’s signature $274 million Walt Disney Concert Hall.

A couple hundred yards southwest is the Colburn School of Music. The jewel of the school’s $350 million redesign, also led by Gehry, is Zipper Hall, a 1,000-seat mini-Disney.

I am sitting in Zipper’s first row. Onstage, four mayoral candidates take turns fielding questions about the race’s number one issue, homelessness. To my left sits a tall woman with glasses who, like the candidates and moderators, is not wearing a mask, despite clear instructions by the host to do so. To underline her apparent status, she disappears through a side door to reappear on the stage.

Her name is Ruby Smith. After spending years on the street, Smith says, she was offered a permanent home by local service provider Los Angeles Family Housing.

She reaches out her hand as if holding a key and says:

“The moment I put that key in the door I felt a whole new sense of freeness and newness. We need affordable housing. We don’t know what impact it will have for peoples’ lives to have a key in their hand.”

A mile away extends L.A.’s skid row, thousands of unhoused people crowded in tents along the sidewalks.

Such stark inequality is most pronounced in America’s wealthiest communities. Just compare San Francisco to Baltimore. The City by The Bay’s median household income is twice that of Baltimore, and yet homelessness there is twice as prevalent.

The reason, researchers Gregg Colburn and Clayton Page Aldern argue in their new book “Homelessness is a Housing Problem,” is as simple as the title. Wealthy cities are not havens for the unhoused because of milder climates or lax policing. Rather, poor people living in places like New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles are pushed onto the street by inflated rents and constrained housing. A recent estimate found that corporate entities own 43 percent of all multi-family rental units in L.A.

The obvious solution is to create more housing on a massive scale. Given that private capital is a prime culprit in grinding our neighbors out into the terrors of the street, private capital must and can be mobilized towards restitution.

Key to that mobilization will be government dramatically rethinking how it funds the creation of affordable and homeless housing. Municipal, state, and federal funding streams must move from the supply side of housing to the demand. That is to provide permanent rent, buy privately developed property outright, or drive down the cost of capital by offering cheap loans and guarantees.

All these strategies create “capital stacks,” layered financing of real estate investments,  that can make housing the extremely poor and unsheltered favorable enough to unlock the vast sums tied up in the private market.

While some, including myself, will blanche at creating financial instruments that benefit the wealthy to help the poor, the fates of millions of Americans require immediate action.

Read the full article about massive housing investments by Daniel Heimpel at Stanford Social Innovation Review.