Keep People In Their Homes and Protect Existing Housing
A huge driver of Los Angeles’ affordability crisis is the skyrocketing price of rent. Today, Los Angeles’ rental vacancy rate is the lowest it’s been in more than 20 years 1, and even for those lucky enough to find an apartment, rents are too high. A minimum wage worker would need to work two to three full-time jobs to afford a decent, two bedroom apartment. 2
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. 3 That means all it takes for an Angeleno to land on the street is a rent hike, a single missed payment, a car that breaks down, or a handful of unpaid sick days.
That pathway to homelessness must be blocked if we are going to solve the crisis on Los Angeles’ streets. That’s why Bass will protect our existing housing stock and prevent renters from losing their homes. As Mayor, Karen Bass will:
1. Protect Renters from Eviction and Protect Mom and Pop Landlords
We are in the midst of an eviction crisis. When the City’s eviction moratorium ends, thousands of renters throughout the city will still be at risk of losing their homes each year. Evictions, often over as little as $100, 4 cause tremendous stress on families and can lead to worse health outcomes, job losses, and an unacceptable disruption in a child’s education – not to mention, evictions are a key way that people enter homelessness. 5
Bass will protect tenants against unlawful evictions, expand the City’s Just Cause eviction protections to more multi-family residential buildings, and prevent tenant harassment by ensuring the full enforcement of the tenant anti-harassment ordinance. She will also commit resources to provide legal assistance to renters and ensure robust code enforcement to maintain the health and safety of affordable housing.
Bass also understands that mom and pop rental property owners are small businesses that should be treated accordingly – and the pandemic exacerbated the unique challenges they face, disproportionately impacting mom and pop landlords of color. 6 It’s important that we preserve Los Angeles’ family-owned rental stock, which is critical to preserving our housing supply. That’s why Bass will safeguard mom and pop owners’ investments. As the eviction moratorium unwinds, the city should help ensure that these apartment owners receive the financial support they need to stay afloat and continue to house Angelenos.
2. Create a Preservation Fund to Ensure Affordability for Decades
One of the city’s most effective strategies to create affordable housing is by securing commitments from residential developers to keep their properties affordable for decades at a time. Every year, however, buildings that received government financial assistance in the past as part of that commitment, make their final loan payments – and the rent restrictions that keep them affordable expire. Over the next decade, thousands of affordable units are at risk of being lost this way. 7
Rather than just collect the money, Bass will set aside the loan payments made to the city by these buildings in a Preservation Fund to purchase apartments with expiring affordability commitments.
She will also work to ensure that units receiving public subsidies in the first place stay affordable for longer periods of time, and she will collaborate with the federal government so that they extend the length of their affordable housing commitments as well.
3. Invest in Community Land Ownership: Putting People Before Profit
Unlike traditional developer-owned affordable housing, community land trusts are not typically subject to expiring affordable housing covenants. These non-profit organizations that pool resources to build and maintain housing have affordability baked into their function from the outset.
Community land trusts provide an opportunity for community ownership, ensuring that housing is driven by the needs of people, not profits. 8 Karen Bass will invest in innovative land trust models in order to build, rehabilitate, and preserve more quality, affordable and accessible housing.
4. End Redlining and Discrimination
We must end redlining and discrimination that targets low-income and minority tenants and homeowners. From property appraisals to loan applications, Angelenos are discriminated against simply because of who they are. As Mayor, Bass will fight against these practices and work to secure strong consumer protections.
That includes partnering with the county to ensure successful implementation of a new state law that will once and for all eliminate discriminatory racial covenants in property grant deeds. Racially exclusionary covenants are no longer legal but their consequences have helped create disparities in communities of color. 9
5. Prevent Displacement and Root Out Predatory Schemes
We must ensure that current tenants and homeowners are not forced out of their homes by developers and speculators that reap profits from neighborhoods without reinvesting in the existing community.
Bass will direct the city to establish an “Anti-Gentrification” local resident priority policy that gives neighborhood residents at risk of displacement preference in newly constructed affordable units. She will ensure meaningful community engagement so that new development addresses existing residents’ needs and enhances access to opportunities, and she will go after landlords who intentionally allow their properties to deteriorate.
For too long, seniors, low-income residents, and communities of color have been preyed upon by companies offering services for various home repairs that are too good to be true. Just one example are PACE programs, which provide financing to homeowners to weatherize their homes and lower their energy bills. These programs’ use of door-to-door sales – especially in low-income communities of color – has resulted in alarming predatory practices.10 In the end, the programs promise a lot but end up delivering little, often at hugely inflated prices.
It is imperative that we protect homeowners from being exploited by these bad actors. Bass will prevent abuse in these programs and seek to end these displacement schemes that contribute to Angelenos losing their homes.
Housing that Angelenos can Afford
The chronic lack of affordable housing is a major driver of homelessness and pervasive inequality. 11 Until we make housing affordable in Los Angeles, the crisis on our streets will only get worse – and our children will continue to wonder whether they can afford to raise their own families in L.A.
More than 50% of people who enter homelessness for the first time cite economic hardship as the biggest reason they lost their home. 12 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. 13 And homeownership remains elusive for too many with incomes that have not kept pace with rising interest rates and sky-high mortgage payments. 14
It’s time for a big change. If we are serious about addressing the affordable housing crisis, we need to dramatically expedite the production of housing – especially affordable housing. In Los Angeles today, there is a shortage of homes for people of all income levels, and particularly for those struggling to make ends meet. This severe housing shortage is negatively impacting communities across our city. The city must build at least 456,643 new housing units by 2029 – but each year, the city builds only 17,000 units, when we should be building 57,000. 15 16
As Mayor, Karen Bass will put Los Angeles on a new path to build more housing that Angelenos can afford. She will be aggressive in making it easier to build in L.A. Here’s how:
1. Bring Down the Cost of Building Affordable Housing
When the city spends $750,000 to build a single unit of “affordable” housing, 17 there is something seriously wrong.
Time is money. And we can’t waste a minute. That’s why Bass will cut through red tape, expedite approvals, waive development fees and work with the community to build more affordable housing more quickly so more people can find homes they can afford. Lower costs lead to lower rents.
Everyone has a role to play in solving our housing crisis. Philanthropy, the private sector, labor, and government all have a financial stake in housing being affordable to all – so we need them all to come to the table in bringing down costs.
Philanthropic dollars can seed housing investments to get projects started more quickly. Similarly, bridge loans from the private sector can get projects underway while long-term financing is being finalized. And it’s past time to simplify the burdensome housing financing process, which requires developers to turn to multiple departments and pots of money with different timelines and rules. Bass will advocate in Sacramento for a more seamless financing system to get projects built faster and cheaper – and she’ll fight for L.A. to win more federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and other state and federal housing resources. Bass is the only candidate in this race who can make that happen.
2. Streamline Approval of 100% Affordable Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing for Immediate Development
We don’t have time to waste on bureaucracy. As Mayor, Bass will create policies to expedite permanent supportive housing and 100% affordable housing projects for immediate development. These policies will get projects built faster – and people in homes more quickly.
3. Create an Affordable Housing Strike Team to Expedite Projects
Even after a project is approved for development, it gets dragged through a maze of city departments for additional clearances and approvals. 18 Affordable housing projects shouldn’t just cut to the front of the line – they need their own line. Bass will create a new Affordable Housing Strike Team that has only one job: approve and expedite affordable housing projects as quickly as possible. This team will include the heads of every department that touches housing and they will be held directly accountable by the Mayor.
4. Build Housing Near Transit and Jobs
Long commutes not only exacerbate our climate emergency – they cause health problems, create an economic toll, and destroy our quality of life. 19 Bass will prioritize housing development along transit corridors, near public transportation and in and around employment centers – so that people can live near where they work. Smart land use planning that concentrates housing near transportation also improves overall affordability by cutting down on the cost of gas – or eliminating the need for a car altogether. 20
5. Leverage Market Rate Developments to Secure More Affordable Housing
The city’s Transit Oriented Communities Program (“TOC”) has successfully created more affordable and mixed-income housing near transit. 21 As Mayor, Bass will build upon and improve the TOC to embrace creative and expanded affordable housing options – and she will work to make the TOC program permanent, preserving one of our city’s most effective tools.
6. Increase Emergency Housing Voucher Usage Rate from 6% to 100%
The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles received 3,365 emergency housing vouchers from the federal government, but the agency has only connected 196 voucher holders with housing. 22 That’s outrageous. Not only does that leave thousands of people unhoused, the federal government may take back the unused vouchers.
Karen Bass has consistently called for action on vouchers and is already working directly with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to prevent a clawback and on policy reforms to ensure we don’t leave these life-saving housing solutions on the table.
As Mayor, she will make sure the city uses 100% of its vouchers through changes to restrictive eligibility rules, onerous application procedures and partnering with philanthropy to incentivize landlords to accept vouchers. She will also advocate for a higher voucher value to meet the demands of L.A.’s expensive rental market.
On her watch, the City of L.A. will never be in a position to return unused vouchers to the federal government.
7. Expand Adaptive Reuse, ADUs and Modular Construction
Traditional building techniques alone aren’t going to cut it. We need new methods that cost less and get built quickly. Bass will embrace ideas like adaptive reuse, the construction of accessory dwelling units, and investments in modular buildings to help the city get to more housing sooner.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, leaving many commercial properties underutilized. In fact, a RAND report found more than 1,000 underutilized hotels, motels, office buildings and retail sites in the Los Angeles area that could be converted into 30,000 housing units. 23 Bass will lead an update to the city’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance to expand it citywide – the ordinance currently only allows for the conversion of commercial buildings into housing in a handful of neighborhoods 24 – and she will ensure that these reforms produce more affordable homes.
Accessory Dwelling Units
For those homeowners who want to build an accessory dwelling unit on their own property, Bass will make it easier for homeowners to get permits, and support financing programs to help them build – producing thousands of units quickly and cheaply, while helping grown children and elderly parents stay close to loved ones.
She will also encourage additional modular construction, an innovative technique that costs less and moves more quickly – and she will work to ensure those units get built in Los Angeles.
Across the board, Bass will work to ensure that construction jobs building affordable housing projects promote high-road middle-class employment opportunities through strong labor protections and local training opportunities.
8. Build Affordable Housing Using L.A.’s Underutilized Real Estate
Too much land sits unused in Los Angeles. Bass will lead the creation of a new Real Estate Division to convert vacant or underutilized city-owned land into new housing, parks and community infrastructure. The new Real Estate Division will also partner with Metro, the LA Unified School District, and other government agencies to usher in affordable housing development on the land they own.
9. Modernize Outdated Zoning Rules
The city has not adopted a comprehensive Zoning Code since 1946 25 – and as a result, it is completely outdated. The last citywide update occurred in the 1970s. 26 Consequently, we have major commercial corridors where the General Plan encourages housing but the zoning either prohibits it outright or makes it impossible to build.
That’s an antiquated version of development when these commercial boulevards are precisely where we should be building more housing, near transit and employment. While the continued development of Community Plan updates is critical, it is also time consuming.
Today, a more urgent, emergency response is required. That’s why Bass will make targeted reforms to our zoning laws to increase capacity, while ensuring that new construction is consistent with the neighborhood character of each individual community.