LA mayor hopeful Bass wants to house 15,000 people in first year, end encampments in first term


Rep. Karen Bass, who is running to be Los Angeles mayor, unveiled her homelessness plan on Friday Jan. 14, in which she set a goal of housing 15,000 people in her first year in office, and characterizing homelessness in Los Angeles as a “public health crisis” that needed to be addressed with the urgency of a disaster response effort.

During a news conference, held in the lobby of the vacant St. Vincent Medical Center building, she aimed to demonstrate that she was already getting to work, announcing that she is urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to seek a waiver that would make it easier to fund mental-health treatment facilities.

She pointed to the medical center building she chose for the plan’s release, saying that such a waiver would allow it to make more than 300 beds available “for people in need.”

“We will not end homelessness unless we address why people are unhoused in the first place,” she said. “Substance abuse and mental illness are the two major drivers and here we are standing in an empty hospital in a dysfunctional system that leaves people on the street.”

She added that opening beds at the hospital comprises “just one piece of the puzzle,” saying that the goal of her plan is to “end street encampments” and reduce overall homelessness by the end of her first term.

“We have a public health emergency, a public health crisis playing out in the streets of L.A. every day — a man-made disaster,” she said. “And we must pull out all stops to save lives and restore our public places and our neighborhoods.”

Bass also said that she supports a centralized approach to addressing homelessness in Los Angeles, wants to build both temporary and permanent housing, and would encourage innovative methods of building dwellings, and aims to reduce the red-tape that have driven up the cost of housing units to as $600,000 a unit — the latter a reference to the costs of units funded by the city’s Proposition HHH bond measure.

She said her plan includes converting not only “shuttered hospitals,” such as St. Vincent, but also motels, hotels and vacant commercial lots into temporary housing “that respects people’s privacy and individual needs.”

She also said that under her plan, she would address the “health and social issues” that push people into homelessness, saying that “we must prevent people from losing housing who are currently teetering on the ledge on the verge of eviction. We must protect the renters and the owners.”

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Congresswoman Karen Bass talks about her policy position on homelessness during a news conference at the closed St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, Friday, Jan 14, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Bass also pointed to her experience addressing similar issues through the organization she founded, Community Coalition, that was aimed at addressing “crime and addiction, working with people who were affected and in recovery.”

Her plan also includes outreach teams to provide services and match people to housing, she said, explaining that she feels “the only way to successfully transition individuals from the streets to housing and services is through persistent on-the-ground engagement and outreach.”

“As part of my emergency response, I look like an army to do it,” she said.

To reach the goal of housing 15,000 people, she said that it would partly depend on funding from the American Rescue Plan, which allots enough funding to the city to make 3,300 emergency housing vouchers.

Only around 500 vouchers have been issued, so the plan calls for making the process more accessible while also giving landlords — especially “mom and pops” — incentives to accept them. Similarly, she plans to apply the same approach to other Section 8 vouchers.

The plan also calls for using LA’s state funding for Project Homekey programs, to create around 1,000 permanent units, speeding up the pipeline of projects funded by Proposition HHH as well as bring the costs down and using government-owned property for temporary and permanent housing.

The process for reviewing and clearing 100% affordable projects would also be done within one city unit in order to speed up the creation of housing units, under the plan.

Bass’ outline also calls for creating temporary housing that addresses safety needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic and that would prevent closure due the virus, as well as explore other types of innovative housing strategies such as master-leasing.

Some rivals panned the plan Friday. “I think it’s an exaggeration to call it a plan,” said Bill Carrick, a strategist for mayoral candidate and downtown Los Angeles business chamber president Jessica Lall.

He said that at best it appeared only to share a set of broad goals with few details. He said that Lall’s plan was forthcoming.

Carrick also groused that Bass, as a congresswoman, could have done more in her current position to prompt more funding to flow to Los Angeles from the federal government.

“What is she waiting on?” he asked. “That was a little strange to me.”

Mike Trujillo, a campaign strategist for mayoral candidate and City Councilman Joe Buscaino, criticized Bass’ goal of 15,000 units as setting the bar too low, saying that it falls far short of the people who are homeless in Los Angeles.

He said that the the goal is only 25% of the more than 60,000 people who are homeless in Los Angeles County. “In my book, 25% is fail,” he said.

The last count done in 2020 found that in the city of Los Angeles, more than 41,000 were experiencing homelessness on a given night.

Buscaino is collecting signatures in support of launching a ballot measure that would ban encampments citywide.

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