Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass met with a delegation from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Thursday to discuss the city’s homelessness crisis following unanimous votes on Bass’ homelessness strategy from city council and the LA County Board of Supervisors. Prior to her meeting, the newly elected mayor spoke with “Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen about her decision to declare a state of emergency on homelessness on her first day in office.

What You Need To Know

  • Bass' Safe Inside program will provide hotel and motel rooms to homless residents throughout the city 

  • The city will have 60 days to complete the approval process for all affordable housing projects

  • Bass hopes city council will extend the COVID-19 eviction moratorium for renters

  • California accounted for 30% of the country’s homeless population in 2022, with an estimated 42,000 homeless residents

Bass began her conversation with Cohen by sharing an overview of her Inside Safe program, which will provide homeless residents with motel and hotel rooms. The program is based on the one Gov. Newsom announced in early 2020 called Project Roomkey. That initiative provided motel and hotel housing and safe isolation to the homeless Angelenos during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are confident in our strategy,” Bass said. She acknowledges that there is a percentage of homeless residents that may be “so profoundly ill, whether it’s mental illness or addiction, they might not be able to say yes.” But, she remains firm on her belief that the majority of people will want to seek housing. California accounted for 30% of the country’s homeless population in 2022, with an estimated 40,000 homeless residents. Bass is hoping to use outreach workers from community-based organizations, who have previously suffered through homelessness, to persuade people to get into housing. While the city of Los Angeles has tried similar methods in its past, Bass reassures, “What’s different this time is that it will be a citywide approach”.

But, the mayor’s Inside Safe program isn’t the only move towards addressing LA’s homelessness crisis. Her state of emergency declaration also includes a directive aimed at lifting regulations that impede the construction of permanent and temporary housing. City officials will now have five days to approve permits and certificates of occupancies, two days to fill out paperwork for temporary housing and 60 days to complete the approval process for all affordable housing projects.

“If you want to build affordable housing, we are going to give you a time certain.” The mayor said people’s complaints over affordable housing have been directed toward the length of time it takes to build something in the city. She gave the Lorena Plaza housing development as an example. That 49-unit affordable housing took 16 years to break ground. And it did so the day Bass declared her state of emergency. On whether the ramping of approvals would affect public safety, the mayor said absolutely not. “There are a lot of delays that make no sense,” something Bass is looking to fix while in office.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 eviction moratorium is set to expire Feb. 1. This could lead to an increase in the city’s homeless population. When asked about the pressing issue, Bass said, “It is my hope that the City Council will pass protections for renters, otherwise everything we’re doing now… we’re going to have a tremendous inflow.” City Council voted two weeks ago to end the moratorium. The next City Council meeting will be held in the new year. That meeting will still include Council member Kevin de León, despite numerous protests and calls for him to resign from his position following a racist audio leak that resulted in the resignations of then-Council president Nury Martinez, then-president of the LA County Federation of Labor Ron Herrera and then-Council member Gil Cedillo.

“I am definitely concerned,” Bass said about the ongoing protests happening at City Council. “The city has to function and I’m sure even the people protesting want to see rental protections extended, want to see the homeless housed.” The mayor said that while conversations have been had about the leaked audio, it’s also important to understand what’s behind it. Bass convened a group of LA leaders the day after the leak to discuss why it happened and what needs to be done moving forward. The underlying issue could mean making changes to redistricting, expanding the City Council and re-examining the structural inequity in the city. Regarding what should be done about de León, Bass said his constituents have the most power. She adds, “I wouldn’t erase his life beforehand. I think he’s made outstanding contributions.” That being said, “Had he resigned, we wouldn’t even be talking about this anymore.”

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