Mayor Bass declares homelessness emergency

“This is my call to Los Angeles to welcome housing in every neighborhood,” she announces

Mayor Karen Bass (Getty)
Mayor Karen Bass (Getty)

In a gesture intended as a clear signal of her priorities — and that doubles as a siren call to affordable housing developers — Karen Bass, the city of L.A.’s new mayor, on Monday declared a state of emergency over the city’s protracted homelessness crisis.

“My mandate is to move Los Angeles in a new direction, with an urgent and strategic approach to solving one of our city’s toughest challenges,” Bass declared on Monday morning, flanked by City Council members and other civic leaders. “I will not accept a homelessness crisis that afflicts more than 40,000 Angelenos and affects every one of us. It is a humanitarian crisis.”

Bass, who was elected last month after a contentious runoff against the billionaire commercial developer Rick Caruso, had long promised that declaring the homelessness emergency would be her first official act as mayor.

Bass, a longtime Democratic congresswoman who is now the city’s first female mayor, was sworn in to the office by Vice President Kamala Harris in a jubilant ceremony held on Sunday afternoon, and officially assumed the post beginning Monday.

Throughout a campaign that centered largely on the city’s homelessness crisis, both she and Caruso emphasized a desire to streamline L.A.’s slow approval process in order to build more housing quickly, although she and Caruso differed on the nuances of their promises. Bass has promised to provide housing for 17,000 additional people by the end of her first year; the emergency declaration grants her additional powers on the issue, including the ability to activate an emergency operations team, expedite development permits and suspend certain rules.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

The new mayor recently told the L.A. Times editorial board that the order will help her office identify city-owned properties that could be converted into housing and facilitate the city’s purchase of hotels and apartment buildings.

She also focused heavily on the issue at the Sunday ceremony, pleading with regional leaders for collaboration on an issue that for years has vexed much of Southern California and with
city residents — seemingly especially those in more affluent areas — to embrace new construction in their own neighborhoods.

“Los Angeles, we just cannot continue to overcrowd neighborhoods that are already overcrowded. So this is my call to Los Angeles to welcome housing in every neighborhood,” Bass said.

In addition to other funding sources, her administration will gain traction on the issue with a windfall of funding from Measure ULA, the controversial new property transfer tax that voters passed in November. Much of the real estate industry bitterly opposed the measure, arguing it will cool the city’s commercial and luxury residential markets and slow development.

— Andrew Asch contributed reporting

Read more