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Housing and Homelessness

LA’s New Mayor Orders City To Speed Up Approval Of Affordable Housing

L.A. Mayor Karen Bass, a woman with light brown skin and a close-cropped haircut, stands in front of a wooden podium with the logo of the Los Angeles Mayor's office on it at a dirt-covered outdoor construction site. Eleven people, both men and women of various ages and ethnicities, stand behind her.
L.A. Mayor Karen Bass stands at a construction site in Boyle Heights to announce her executive order fast-tracking affordable housing approval in the city.
(David Wagner
/
LAist)
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L.A.’s new mayor capped off her first week in office on Friday by signing an executive order aimed at dramatically speeding up timelines for approving affordable housing projects in the city.

The directive signed by Mayor Karen Bass instructs city departments to review and approve applications for developments that are 100% affordable housing within 60 days, and to issue building permits within five days.

“Everyone knows that time is money,” Bass said at a press conference where she announced the executive order. “Over the last year, I can't recount the number of times I have talked to people who try to build affordable housing and they talk about the reason why it cost so much is because of the length of time it takes.”

Bass signed the executive directive at the construction site for Lorena Plaza, a development slated to bring 49 units of affordable housing to Boyle Heights, mostly for unhoused residents.

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The project has been in development for more than 14 years and has yet to be built. It was held up due in part to opposition from owners of the nearby El Mercado shopping center, as well as former City Councilmember José Huizar (now facing trial for allegedly accepting bribes from developers).

Lorena Plaza also faced significant delays due to the city’s approval and permitting process according to Dora Gallo, president and CEO of A Community of Friends, the nonprofit behind the project.

“It was one hurdle after another,” Gallo said, describing a series of months-long hearings with multiple city departments. “This experience amongst affordable housing developers is not unique, but it is so unnecessary.”

Bass said her order will cut red tape and encourage affordable housing development across the city, not just in overcrowded neighborhoods. She did not provide an estimate of how many additional housing units Angelenos can expect to see during her next four years in office due to these changes.

“What I can tell you is that we have 24 projects that are in the hopper right now,” she said. “I'm also hoping that it might encourage some of those projects to expand their size.”

Bass acknowledged that in order to make these faster timelines feasible, the city will need to fill staffing vacancies throughout various departments.

If the city is able to execute her directive, Bass’ order would significantly shorten existing approval timelines. A recent UCLA study found that even fast-tracked affordable housing developments near transit lines currently take nearly 500 days to secure city approval.

Bass’ order applies to a small slice of overall housing in L.A. Only 100% affordable projects will be eligible for faster approval. Market-rate and mixed-income apartment buildings will not. Expedited approval will also not apply to projects asking for zoning changes or other variances.

Jason Ward, co-director of the RAND Center on Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles, said L.A. needs to significantly ramp up housing production of all types in order to meet state requirements to plan for nearly half a million new homes in the city by 2029.

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“Until we really create market rate housing that starts to become more affordable due to plentiful supply, I don't think we're really going to ultimately address chronic homelessness in the region,” Ward said.

Friday’s executive order follows Bass’ move earlier in the week to declare a state of emergency due to the city’s homelessness crisis.

As L.A. Mayor Karen Bass begins her term, tell us what issues feel most urgent to you.