LA mayor fast-tracks homeless shelters and affordable housing

Karen Bass orders reviews for such projects done within 60 days

Karen Bass, homelessness, shelters, affordable housing, fast tracking
LA Mayor Karen Bass (Getty)

Newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass had promised to “hit the ground running” to tackle homelessness. Her first executive order: to fast-track shelters and affordable housing.

The mayor ordered city departments responsible for processing applications for affordable housing and shelters to complete reviews within 60 days, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Such reviews normally take from six to nine months, city officials say. The directive comes days after Bass declared a state of emergency on homelessness.

“With this executive directive, we accelerate and lower the cost of affordable and temporary housing to bring people inside and keep people in their homes,” Bass said. “It is now time to get to work.”

A key element of her order waives discretionary reviews on projects that don’t require zoning changes.

Those reviews, which can include public hearings and more environmental reports, are required for all projects of 50 units or more. To avoid those reviews, developers have often planned projects of 49 units when zoning would have granted more.

City officials said 31 projects currently in the review process would receive immediate relief.

The orders apply only to projects for 100-percent affordable housing and address complaints by developers who say their projects languish for weeks or months while plans are reviewed. They then face construction delays while waiting for building inspections.

Bass said that she hopes the relaxed rules spur developers to build larger projects.

The directive also instructs departments to conduct reviews simultaneously, so applicants will no longer have to submit their plans for multiple reviews one after another.

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“I have a big smile on my face right now,” Deborah La Franchi, chief executive of SDS Capital Group, which raises private capital to fund supportive housing, told the Times. “It’s going to make such a difference on getting these units built and moving tenants into them.”

Miguel Santana, chief executive of the Weingart Foundation, said streamlining the city review process will be critical as hundreds of millions of dollars for affordable housing starts to flow from Measure ULA, the tax on high-value real estate deals just approved by voters.

But he conceded the directive is only the first step.

“Just saying it doesn’t make it so,” he said. “There has to be an organizational structure around it. It does set a clear directive and mandate from the CEO of the city — the mayor — to every general manager who touches affordable housing that this is the highest priority and must be treated with urgency.”

The mayor’s focus on speeding reviews of affordable housing will bump into city staffing shortages. The Planning Department has a 27-percent staff vacancy rate.

And developers aiming to build larger projects than what the city allows still must go through a lengthy review process.

Mercedes Márquez, head of the city’s housing and homelessness programs, said that there’s a difference between “bureaucracy and red tape” and “legitimate planning concerns and land uses.”

“Our General Plan is a law. And so we’re not going to be doing that without a review,” Márquez told the Times. “The important part is that we have flattened the discretion. Agencies have to get through this process.”

Dana Bartholomew

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