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Housing and Homelessness

Bass Calls For More Cops, Big Ramp-Up Of Motel Shelters

Mayor Karen Bass speaks in the Los Angeles City Council chambers while wearing a red blazer
L.A. Mayor Karen Bass speaks during her first State of the City address on April 17, 2023.
(City of Los Angeles video feed)
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L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, in her first State of the City address, called for a massive ramp-up of a motel shelter program for unhoused people – including having the city buy motels and hotels – and separately asked for funding to hire hundreds more police officers.

“To build a stronger, healthier, happier and safer new L.A., we must make life easier for every Angeleno – especially those who are most vulnerable,” Bass told a packed crowd of supporters Monday in the city council chambers.

The mayor said her proposed budget will include scaling up her signature program offering motel shelter to unhoused people, known as Inside Safe, to $250 million.

  • Bass has been in office 127 days. Here’s how she’s doing on campaign promises.

    • She called for returning LAPD to 9,700 sworn officers. She has reduced that target number to 9,500 in her first budget proposal.
    • She said she’d house 17,000 people experiencing homelessness during her first year in office. So far, she says more than 1,000 people have secured shelter under Inside Safe. Another 3,000 or so have found shelter under efforts that started before Bass was mayor, according to the latest figures from her office.
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City councilmembers previously authorized $50 million for Inside Safe, which the mayor said has sheltered more than 1,000 formerly unhoused Angelenos so far.

She also is calling for what she describes as an “unprecedented” $1.3 billion investment in addressing homelessness.

She didn’t break down where that overall investment would go, though more details could come Tuesday when her proposed budget is set to be released.

Purchasing motels and hotels will be a key part of the homelessness strategy going forward, Bass said in her speech.

“As we scale our homelessness strategy, renting motel rooms – however – is just not a sustainable model,” she said.

City officials also are “working through 3,000 city-owned properties to identify those we will use for housing,” Bass said, citing a directive she issued early in her time as mayor.

Mayor wants LAPD to expand

Bass also laid out a goal to hire hundreds more LAPD officers.

"My budget proposal calls for urgent action to hire hundreds of officers next year on the way to restoring the department to full strength,” the mayor said.

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LAPD currently has about 9,100 sworn officers, and Bass wants to bring the force back up to 9,500. That’s a downtick from her vision during her campaign for mayor, when she said she wanted to return the force to its authorized size of 9,700.

She said she’ll increase the size of LAPD by bumping up incentives for new recruits, bringing back retired cops and hiring civilians into LAPD jobs so “officers can move back onto the street.”

Adding more police is “not popular with a lot of the progressives, and she’s taking that head on,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry Commerce Association, who supports the move.

Bass’ 33-minute speech came as she’s taken on homelessness as her top issue – with poll after poll continuing to show Angelenos ranking it as their biggest concern.

Many residents have expressed frustration at the growing crisis and are demanding action by the mayor.

Tackling the city's housing crisis

The housing affordability crisis has been a close second on Angelenos’ minds, according to surveys.

On that point, Bass made a direct appeal to Angelenos to support building more homes in their neighborhoods.

“If we are going to bring people indoors from encampments, we need Angelenos to welcome new housing in their communities,” she said.

While campaigning for office, one of the mayor’s biggest goals was housing 17,000 unhoused people by the end of her first year in office.

During Monday’s address, the mayor pleaded with landlords to accept housing vouchers – government dollars that fund apartments for people who are unhoused and/or have very low incomes.

“I call on apartment owners: Please accept vouchers,” Bass said.

Nearly 2,000 vouchers go unused

The city has “nearly 2,000 housing vouchers [that] are going unused,” Bass said, calling it “unacceptable” and saying she’s adding more staff to help people with vouchers actually get housing.

For more than three years it has been illegal under state and local law for L.A. landlords to discriminate against voucher holders seeking a place to rent. But many landlords are still turning away voucher recipients, sometimes explicitly (which is illegal) or often through strict tenant screening on factors such as credit scores (which is legal).

The federal government issued almost 3,400 emergency housing vouchers to the city of L.A. during the pandemic, with the goal of housing people experiencing homelessness. But almost two years later, only about 1,400 of those vouchers are now being used to lease apartments.

The city of L.A.’s 42% lease-up rate trails far behind other expensive, in-demand California cities such as San Diego and Santa Barbara, where close to 100% of emergency housing vouchers have turned into leases.

City officials have placed the blame for the city’s dismal performance on staffing shortages at L.A.’s housing authority, and on wariness among local landlords who see the city’s handling of housing vouchers as a bureaucratic morass involving drawn-out apartment inspections and mountains of paperwork.

Bass’ comments spoke directly to that perception.

“Consider taking one or two [voucher holders],” Bass said to landlords. “We will work with you, we will not abandon you or abandon your tenant.”

Bass acknowledges 22 deaths on Metro so far this year

Bass also highlighted a sharp spike in deaths on public transit – driven largely by overdoses – which took place as an unusually cold and stormy winter pushed unhoused people onto Metro trains and buses.

"In the first quarter of this year, 22 people died on Metro,” Bass said.

“That is more than the number of people that died on Metro in the entire year of 2022."

She called for better funding for drug and mental health treatment – and said she plans to have the city get creative to pay for it.

“There must be real and sustained treatment available for substance abuse and mental illness for the unhoused,” Bass said.

She’s proposing to use funds received from opioid and tobacco settlements “to pay for substance abuse treatment for beds for the unhoused.”

A call for partnerships

In her first months in office, Bass helped bring one of the city’s largest employers back to the bargaining table with bus drivers, classroom assistants and custodians.

Unionized support staff walked off the job and shut down Los Angeles Unified School District campuses in March for more than 400,000 students during a planned three-day strike. Bass helped district leaders and Service Employees International Union Local 99 break a months-long impasse and reach a deal to increase wages and offer healthcare to more workers.

“She was interested in our fight,” said Haydee Malacas Hart, a parent community representative at Carson High School and member of SEIU Local 99. “She sat and she talked and listened to every one of us.”

During her speech, Bass hinted that she could intervene in other simmering labor disputes – though she has yet to do so formally.

Film and TV writers recently voted to authorize a strike. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach effectively shut down earlier this month amid ongoing labor negotiations between dockworkers and shippers.

Bass recognized both industries as middle class job engines.

“And we need more middle class jobs here in L.A.,” Bass said.

Bass has also worked closely with county supervisors – who approved a state of emergency on homelessness in January, a month after Bass declared an emergency at the city level. The county’s budget proposal released Monday designated nearly $700 million to combat homelessness.

In the past, it was “too easy to blame one another, especially when it came to homelessness,” said Janice Hanh, chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, as she introduced Bass at the State of the City event.

“It was time to stop pointing fingers and start locking arms,” Hanh said of Bass’ approach.

“And on day one she proved that.”

Bass also is working closely with the city council – including with Council President Paul Krekorian, who credited the mayor at Monday’s event for a “collaborative approach and bridge-building.”

What comes next

City spending decisions will ultimately be up to the city council, whose Budget and Finance Committee will review the mayor’s proposed budget at hearings in the coming weeks.

The council then has to vote by June 1 on whether they want to modify what the mayor put forward.

Click here to see a list of upcoming budget hearings where public comment will be taken.

What questions do you have about homelessness in Southern California?

Updated April 17, 2023 at 8:07 PM PDT
This story has been updated with comments from Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry Commerce Association.
Updated April 17, 2023 at 7:46 PM PDT
This story has been updated with details from L.A. Mayor Karen Bass' State of the City speech.
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