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Civics & Democracy

Mayor Bass Wants To House 17,000 People In Her First 12 Months. How Will The City Get There?

A Black woman in a green suit jacket has a wide smile as she is photographed in front of a microphone.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass addresses a news conference after her L.A. mayoral election win on Nov. 17.
(David McNew
Getty Images)
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When Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass recently gave her State of the City Address, two of the biggest priorities she highlighted were rebuilding the shrinking LAPD and investing the the Inside Safe program to provide transitional housing to Angelenos living on the streets.

In fact, Mayor Bass, who in December declared a state of emergency on Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, is now proposing an allocation of $1.3 billion to tackling this crisis — about 10% of the city budget.

Bass joined Larry Mantle on LAist’s public affairs show AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 FM, to update us on her administration’s goals, one of which is housing 17,000 people in her first year of office.

Bringing people off the streets

Since the immediate goal is to bring people off the streets, she says interim housing will play a key role. In her first 100 days, Bass said the city has been able to help over 1,200 people move from encampments to motels.

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This has been a success, she says, as the cleared encampments have not filled back up, and people have been leaving them willingly.

But a motel room that might cost $100 or more each night is not sustainable for housing thousands of people in the long term, Bass said — that’s why her budget actually calls for purchasing hotels and motels.

“I don't care how fast you build something; we can never build fast enough to end street encampments. So we have to come up with a permanent method of temporarily housing people.”

Mayor Bass said that most unhoused people won’t need ongoing housing from the city. She says many people living in vehicles or tents are employed full-time, and for various reasons, like a poor credit history, they might just need a temporary lift into affordable housing. Others might transition from interim housing to supportive housing for up to two years, with the help of federal vouchers.

A few, however, have profound mental illnesses that would require the city to support them throughout their lives— and voters must choose next November what sorts of provisions will be taken for their long-term care.

“But I really do want to emphasize that is a very, very small percentage of people who are on the streets,” Bass said. “The majority will be able to go back into mainstream society, if we address why they were unhoused to begin with.”

Bass said the city of Los Angeles has 7,000 vacancies, including 900 in sanitation and 300 in street services. These shortages are why there are delays in so many basic city services, like filling potholes, she said — so it will be a priority to make these jobs available to those moving into permanent supportive housing.

“These are union jobs. These are jobs with pensions,” Bass said. “That's why I'm going to do everything I can to fast-track the hiring. We essentially take care of two problems at once: we increase access to city services, and we help lift people out of poverty.”

Although there has been some clear progress, Bass said, she is not yet satisfied with the quantity of services the city is providing. She said she is hiring a physician to coordinate clinical rotations for health programs in the city, and currently, the city is working with USC Medical School’s street medicine team to provide health services to people living in motels.

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“We do provide services, but I think it needs to be much more intensive,” Bass said.

And when it comes to building more housing units, Bass said she has issued executive directives to help private builders navigate the bureaucratic processes and work faster. She called on L.A. residents to help identify places in their neighborhoods where higher-density housing could be built, rather than resisting development and construction.

“I really believe that the magnitude of this problem is so massive that every Angeleno needs to feel that they have skin in the game,” Bass said. “Fifteen members of the city council, the mayor and five supervisors cannot do this alone. We need everybody to participate.”

Rebuilding the LAPD

Attrition rates at the LAPD — the number of people voluntarily leaving the organization — are on the rise, compounding the significant challenges in recruiting officers. That’s why Mayor Bass says she’s proposing an “aggressive plan” to hire more people.

One of the main challenges, she said, is that the current recruiting process simply takes too long, so streamlining it should be a priority. In addition, she said, the city should focus on increasing hiring bonuses and other incentives, as well as cultivating a sense of pride in being a police officer here in Los Angeles.

Bass said that’s part of why she is concerned about the recent release of the personal information of over 9,300 LAPD officers, including those who are involved in sensitive investigations.

“We have officers that are leaving now, because they feel demoralized, [like] they don't feel they have the support of the city,” she said. “The release of that information of law enforcement officers, especially those who work in confidential settings, is not going to do anything to move the city forward.”

Remembering the late Mayor Richard Riordan

Mayor Bass says she would like to adopt the mentality of the late Richard Riordan, who died April 19.

Riordan, who served as LA’s mayor from 1993 to 2001, was known for having a somewhat unpolished demeanor, particularly for a government official, and for cutting through red tape to get things done. When the 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed a section of the Santa Monica, he offered contractors a bonus of $200,000 each day to finish its repair speedily, and as a result, it was completed 74 days ahead of schedule.

Bass said she wants to treat the homelessness crisis with the same urgency.

“[He had an] ability to come into City Hall and say, ‘Okay, this is a bureaucracy. This is a roadblock. Let me set it aside, because we got to get the job done. I'm not going to accept the status quo, because we have an emergency in front of us and we are going to work 24/7 to get the job done,’” Bass said. “And I use that as a foundation for how I've approached one, running for office, and two, serving.”

Listen to the conversation

Mayor Bass 04.26.2023
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