Karen Bass is running for Mayor to lead Los Angeles through this time of crisis – a time when 40,000 Angelenos go to sleep every night without a roof over their heads and nearly four unhoused Angelenos die every day.
Homelessness is a crisis for the unhoused and for every one of our neighborhoods. It’s a crisis on every level — public health, public safety, economic and humanitarian — and it requires a bold and aggressive emergency response. Karen Bass will bring leadership, accountability and action to dramatically reduce homelessness and end street encampments in Los Angeles.
Karen Bass is a leader who sets a vision and builds coalitions behind it. She is a mother, former emergency room Physician Assistant, and community organizer who rolls up her sleeves and follows through to get the job done. It’s what she’s always done:
At County/USC hospital, Bass treated individuals who were homeless, crime victims, and cases of substance abuse and domestic violence. Seeing those patients every day helped drive her to work full time on addressing the root causes that led them into the ER in the first place.
As the founder of the Community Coalition, Bass advocated for converting motels into housing for the homeless in the 1990s, decades before COVID-19 prompted the creation of Project Roomkey.
And as Speaker of the Assembly during the Great Recession and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus during the Trump Administration, Bass knows how to both work across the aisle and make difficult decisions.
In each chapter of her life, Bass hasn’t run away from problems – she’s run toward them. She’s a crisis-tested leader who will do whatever it takes to address the challenge at hand. That’s the kind of urgency and leadership LA so desperately needs.
As Mayor, Bass will respond to homelessness like the emergency it is. She will lead with a comprehensive approach, beginning with aggressive emergency action to:
- House 15,000 people by the end of year one
- Dramatically reduce street homelessness
- End street encampments
- Lead on mental health and substance abuse treatment
Leadership & Accountability
Bass understands that only the Mayor of Los Angeles can command the public attention and bully pulpit necessary to hold government accountable and force bureaucracies to work together and get things done. She will be out front on our homelessness crisis and will hold every level of government accountable while building productive partnerships and coalitions.
For too many years, government action on homelessness has been siloed. Federal, state, county and city governments have all moved in different directions – with no coordination or overarching plan.
That simply can’t happen any longer – there is no time to waste.
Bass is the only candidate for Mayor with the experience and qualifications to bring all the players to the table and implement a single plan that cuts through the bureaucracy and brings home every available dollar to solve homelessness.
Bass has been building coalitions – among elected officials and within communities – for the last three decades. She spent fourteen years as a leader in the community working alongside the city and county government. And for the last sixteen years, she has served at the highest levels of state and federal government. She is the only candidate with the experience and relationships to chart this new course.
Personally Lead as Mayor and Appoint a Homelessness Chief
As Mayor, Bass will lead on homelessness and personally drive action at City Hall to marshal the resources of every city department to fight homelessness and end all street encampments. She will also appoint and empower one individual – who reports directly to the Mayor – to carry out this vision. Personality conflicts and bureaucratic turf battles will not be tolerated. And every dollar budgeted for homelessness will actually go to solve homelessness – no accounting tricks, no added bureaucracy.
Forge a Direct City-County Partnership
The city is responsible for housing and the county is responsible for services, but in practice, this division of labor leads to jurisdictional battles and finger pointing. Any solution to homelessness will require daily communication, and genuine partnership, between the city and county. But that kind of sustained and direct conversation is not happening the way it should. Building on existing relationships, Bass will work directly with the members of the Board of Supervisors and her homelessness Chief will be empowered to work directly with the County CEO and county departments to deliver results.
Do More with the Money We Have
Through the city’s Proposition HHH and the county’s Measure H, the voters of Los Angeles have invested billions of their dollars to solve this problem with not enough to show for it. These funding sources supplement an unprecedented amount of money flowing from the federal and state government. We must spend these resources effectively and efficiently – and that means getting more bang for our buck. Case in point: spending nearly $750,000 per unit of housing is outrageous. Bass will be laser-focused on ensuring accountability, transparency and proper oversight for each dollar spent.
Maximize State Funding
The Governor and Legislature committed $12 billion of mostly one-time dollars that we can use to build housing units. Bass will make sure those one-time dollars are spent with the greatest return on investment and will make the case in Sacramento for new ongoing resources to prevent and end homelessness.
Fight for Federal Dollars and the Loosening of Restrictive Federal Rules
Cities and states across the nation are grappling with increasing numbers of unhoused individuals. And with housing prices soaring and the COVID safety net expiring, the problem could get even worse.
Homelessness does not get the attention it requires in Washington but in Congress, Bass is working to change that. She is working directly with the Biden Administration to make housing vouchers more flexible, house our veterans and rebuild the broken mental healthcare and substance abuse systems. But she knows the federal government could be doing a lot more.
As Mayor, Bass will join with other Mayors and Governors to elevate homelessness as a national issue because we all must own the solutions to this crisis together. She will be a fierce advocate in Washington for additional federal dollars and the loosening of restrictive federal rules that have prevented us from housing, treating and employing people as swiftly as we need to. Real partnership from the federal government can help us solve the crisis in LA.
Build More Temporary Housing
Temporary housing is not the solution to homelessness but it is critically needed to help get people off the streets as soon as possible, and provide a bridge to permanent housing. That’s why as Mayor, Bass will seek community input and get more temporary housing up and running as quickly as possible.
Identify All Available Land
Master inventories of land including city-owned and other government-owned properties that can be used to build housing are already completed or underway. City-owned land is a great start, saving taxpayers the upfront cost of land and providing the flexibility needed to develop quickly. Rather than allowing these inventories to gather dust on a shelf, Bass will use them to start building.
Convert Existing Properties
By turning to motels, hotels, shuttered hospitals, and vacant commercial spaces, thousands of unhoused Angelenos can be provided with safe, clean temporary housing that respects people’s privacy and individual needs.
Partner with Religious and Community Institutions
The city’s religious and community institutions have played an integral role in the effort to care for the unhoused. Bass will turn to these organizations for donations of land and will help bring their efforts to scale in continued partnership in this work.
Bring the Private Sector On Board
Some of California’s largest companies like Google, Apple and Facebook have already stepped in to make significant financial contributions to address the state’s housing shortage, but much of it has been concentrated in the Bay Area. As Mayor, Bass will partner with LA’s private sector leaders to make similar commitments here at home. Ultimately, solving homelessness is in everyone’s best interests.
Build More Affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing
While we deal with the immediate crisis at hand, we must be relentless when it comes to building more affordable and permanent supportive housing if we want to solve this crisis.
Replace Red Tape with Action and Expedite Affordable Housing Projects
In meeting with developers and providers alike across the city, Bass consistently hears stories of red tape, and barriers we’ve erected over time that drag out projects and lead to ballooning costs.
As Mayor, Bass will cut through red tape, expedite approvals, waive development fees and work with the community to build more permanent housing.
Existing structures should be used to the full extent possible, and zoning-compliant permanent housing projects should be approved for immediate development. Bass will also consolidate all review and clearance functions within a single unit dedicated to approving 100% affordable projects.
The city should never be the obstacle standing in the way of progress.
In addition to making sure that government agencies responsible for housing are operating as nimbly as they can, Bass will explore other innovative financing solutions like securing bridge loans from the private sector to get projects underway while long-term financing is finalized.
Leverage Proposition HHH and Homekey
As Mayor, Bass will provide the leadership needed to complete the pipeline of projects funded by Proposition HHH, and she will leverage the $2.75 billion made available by the state to convert additional hotels, motels and other properties into critically needed housing through the Homekey program. The latest round of Homekey funds are expected to create upwards of 1,000 additional units of permanent housing in the City of Los Angeles.
Expand Master Leasing
Bass will scale other tried and true practices that we know work like master leasing, which provides the certainty developers need on the front end to commit to building, and provides readily available units that help outreach workers more easily do their job on the backend. When done at scale, this tool can more quickly house unhoused Angelenos.
Transition Individuals From the Streets to Housing and Services
As part of her coordinated emergency response to homelessness, Bass will deploy trained neighborhood service teams across Los Angeles – because the only way to successfully transition individuals from the streets to housing and services is through persistent on-the-ground engagement and outreach.
Currently, we have a patchwork of city, county, and independent teams working on the streets, sometimes at cross-purposes. As Mayor, Bass will lead, centralize, align, and scale these teams – and she’ll invest the resources we need to make sure they succeed. They know how to do the work – they just haven’t had the resources needed to do it at scale.
The teams will include trained outreach workers, medical and mental health professionals, and social workers – and Bass will create job opportunities for the formerly unhoused to work directly on these teams as well. As individuals with lived experience, they play a vital role as trusted messengers in helping others find the same stability they did.
While providers will be responsible for the outreach, these teams will be backed up by law enforcement or other security support to ensure the safety of all involved.
The current scatter-shot approach whereby different providers show up to different neighborhoods on different days isn’t cutting it. Bass’ approach will ensure that each team will be on the ground every day in their assigned neighborhoods, allowing providers to build trust and relationships with the housed and unhoused alike. That consistent, community-based approach is a critical ingredient for long-term success.
When adequate shelter and services are available and offered, most individuals will accept. The fact is that when unsheltered individuals understand that there is a safe, clean place to go, and the services they need, they don’t want to live on the street. And when outreach is done right, cases of refusal are very rare.
For the small percentage of unhoused individuals who may resist, the service teams will evaluate the individual cases in order to determine the appropriate next steps. For some, that could mean stays in residential treatment programs or appearances in drug courts. Temporary hospitalization may be needed for others who pose a danger to themselves and the public.
This strategic approach, which will lead to the vast majority of individuals accepting offers of housing, and then triage the small number of individuals that don’t, will lead to the end of encampments.
At the end of the day, we cannot – and will not – tolerate open air drug trafficking or the violence that takes place in broad daylight or hidden behind tents.
Laws must be enforced to protect both the unhoused and the community at large.
Lead on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services
Nearly fifty percent of unsheltered individuals are either suffering from severe mental illness or substance abuse. Meanwhile, our mental health and substance abuse systems have been decimated, the county is short thousands of beds, and a maze of bureaucratic hurdles prevents progress in the same way it does for housing.
Bass has been a leader in the fight against addiction and mental illness for decades. From founding the Community Coalition in South LA to address the crack-cocaine epidemic in the late 1980s, to helping pass laws to expand access to healthcare for families, Bass has a proven track-record of delivering tangible results.
As Mayor, she will leverage that experience to take the lead in working with the county, state, and federal governments to address the severe shortage of mental health and substance abuse disorder services, support, and capacity.
We need short-term placements to help transition individuals off the streets and we need long-term placements for cases of more serious health issues. From leveraging state dollars to co-locating healthcare services in housing placements to cutting through the misguided federal rules that prevent us from getting people the care they need – Bass won’t accept that these issues don’t technically fall under the jurisdiction of the Mayor. She’ll step up and lead.
Equip the Unhoused with Job Training and Employment Services To Reenter the Workforce
We know two things to be true: there are widespread worker shortages across the economy at the same time employment is a critical ingredient for unhoused individuals on the path to stability.
Individuals become homeless for different reasons and we should target job training and employment assistance accordingly. Some of the unhoused are working but just aren’t making the wages needed to afford living in LA. Those who are formerly incarcerated confront barriers to employment because of their backgrounds. When foster youth age out of the foster care system, resources are terminated and within a few short months, many fall into homelessness. Many other unhoused individuals simply have not had access to the opportunities they need.
Solving homelessness can be a jobs program. As Mayor, Bass will promote access to social support services like SSI/SDI to make sure that individuals can access safety net programs. And she’ll locate robust job training and counseling services in both temporary and permanent housing that can help get people back into the workforce.
Prevent Homelessness and Keep Our Neighbors Housed
In addition to the 40,000 unhoused Angelenos, another 352,000 Angelenos are in abject poverty at risk of becoming homeless. On average, every day in Los Angeles, 207 people find their way into housing while another 227 fall into homelessness. Providers are doing herculean work but the forces leading people into homelessness are just too powerful.
As Mayor, Bass will be steadfast in addressing the root causes of homelessness to prevent folks from becoming homeless in the first place.
The best way to prevent homelessness is to keep folks in their homes.
More than 50% of the individuals who enter homelessness for the first time cite economic hardship as the primary factor for losing their home. Studies estimate that three out of four Los Angeles households are rent burdened, meaning they spend over 30% of household income on rent and utilities – making it extremely likely that they are one medical bill or car repair away from ending up on the streets.
The income inequality in our city is profound – and it is just becoming too expensive to live in LA.
Bass has been fighting for economic justice her entire life. As Mayor, she will fight against unlawful evictions, prevent tenant harassment, and provide legal assistance to renters.
She will leverage her federal and state experience to maximize resources for rental assistance, direct cash assistance, and low-interest loan programs to ensure that we can keep our neighbors safely housed, even when money is tight.
And she will make housing vouchers work for more Angelenos. The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles recently received approximately 3,000 emergency housing vouchers, but shockingly, only about 500 have been issued, and even fewer have actually been used. Burdensome paperwork results in many vouchers going to waste, not to mention how difficult it is to find landlords willing to accept them.
With the crisis at hand, Bass will not allow so many life-saving vouchers to remain on the table. She will work with the federal government to cut through the red tape, and expand the availability and accessibility of housing vouchers. And she will increase incentives to landlords so that more are willing to accept them.
Most of all, Bass will continue to do what she’s done her whole life: fight for better jobs, healthcare, and education to provide folks the opportunity they need to succeed in today’s economy.