Mayor Karen Bass has signed an executive directive intended to fast track and lower the cost of building affordable housing and shelters in Los Angeles, four days after she declared a state of emergency in the city’s homeless crisis.
Her directive, signed on on Friday, Dec. 16, will remove bureaucratic red tape in reviewing and approving 100% affordable housing projects or shelters, which the mayor said would enable developers not only to build faster, but could entice them to build more housing units.
Specifically, her order requires city departments to review and approve such projects within 60 days of a developer submitting a completed application. Once construction begins, the permit, utility and certificate of occupancy approval process must be completed within five days for 100% affordable housing projects and within two days for shelters.
Removing red tape that has hampered affordable housing is imperative, Bass suggested during a news conference on the site of the future Lorena Plaza affordable housing project in Boyle Heights, which will feature 49 apartments. The project took 14 years before breaking ground last month due to regulatory and legal hurdles.
At the Lorena Plaza site, Bass signed her executive directive and spoke of the need to remove obstacles that prevent housing projects from coming online faster.
“How on earth could we expect to house 40,000 people if we continue business as usual?” she asked. The number she cited was a reference to the estimated 41,980 Angelenos living on the streets, according to the latest homeless count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Under the executive order, anyone who submits an application for a 100% affordable housing project or shelter will be exempt from discretionary review processes — if the plans don’t require any zoning change, variance or general plan amendment.
Additionally, developers with eligible projects may add additional units to their plans by taking advantage of a state “density bonus” law or similar bonus program through the city, and may qualify for other incentives or waivers.
As part of the requirement that eligible projects be reviewed and approved within 60 days, city departments must notify applicants of all required changes or amendments to their plans by the 30th day.
Due to red tape, Bass said, developers have chosen to build fewer units that take less time to go through the review-and-approval process than larger projects do. Larger projects require more paperwork and hearings – and ultimately, more time and money.
At the same time, developers have historically chosen to build affordable housing in certain locations to avoid costly and time-consuming bureaucracy, even though Angelenos need housing throughout the city, Bass said.
“The neighborhoods where housing is being built are already neighborhoods that are severely overcrowded,” she said.
Bass expressed a similar concern during her inaugural speech on Sunday, when she urged Angelenos to “lock arms” to collectively solve the homelessness crisis and stressed that city residents must welcome new housing in all neighborhoods.
“We just cannot continue to overcrowd neighborhoods that are already overcrowded,” she said in her inaugural speech.
On Monday, in her first act as mayor, Bass declared a state of emergency and called L.A.’s homelessness situation a “humanitarian crisis.”
Declaring a state of emergency allows Bass and her administration to more aggressively confront roadblocks that have hampered or delayed efforts to address the crisis, fast-track the process for getting more housing built, and allow the mayor, as director of the city’s Emergency Operations Organization, to coordinate a citywide response to homelessness.
This week, city officials in Lancaster raised concerns that Bass’ plans for dealing with homelessness may involve relocating the homeless population to their community in the Antelope Valley.
In May, Bass had reportedly suggested to a Los Angeles Times columnist that she would work with county officials to create clinics for homeless individuals battling mental health illnesses.
“There’s a big chunk of land in Palmdale and maybe we could create a village out there,” Bass had said to the Times.
This week, Mayor R. Rex Parris and the City Council in Lancaster declared a state of emergency against what the city described in a news release as “Bass’ plan for a mass movement of homeless individuals to the Antelope Valley.”
“I strongly oppose Mayor Bass’ plan to move the LA homeless population to a village in the Antelope Valley,” Parris said in a statement. “This kind of inhumane and degrading treatment of individuals who are already struggling is unacceptable and must be stopped. How can you claim that your city is a sanctuary city while sending your own citizens away?”
Bass, during Friday’s news conference, denied that she has any intention of relocating homeless individuals to another city.
“We are trying to get housing built in the city of Los Angeles, so I’m not sure what that was – sounds a little bit like a stunt. But nobody has ever said anything about moving anyone to Lancaster,” she said.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s latest action on Friday was embraced by local officials and homeless and affordable housing advocates.
Dora Leong Gallo, president and CEO of A Community of Friends, a nonprofit whose mission is to end homelessness among those with mental illness, described the hurdles her organization faced getting the Lorena Plaza project off the ground. The nonprofit is partnering with Metro, which owns the land, to build the project.
The process to secure funding, building permits and clearances to start construction were filled with hurdles, she said, noting that the project required more than 30 clearances that involved multiple city departments.
“This experience amongst affordable housing developers is not unique, but it is so unnecessary,” Leong Gallo said, adding that “this executive order … with one pen stroke will eliminate much, if not all, of what stopped us from providing affordable homes to people faster.”
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Monica Mejia, president of East LA Community Corporation, which specializes in building affordable housing, said Bass’ executive directive can’t come soon enough, noting the average affordable housing project takes six years to complete.
“That’s such a long time,” said Mejia, who predicts the expedited process will cut the number of years down to three or four. “This new law is going to help projects come online sooner so we can house people.”
As part of the directive, the city’s housing department will also coordinate with the city controller’s office to track and process all affordable housing projects and fast-track payments for such projects. The housing department will also provide payment reports to the mayor at least monthly.
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