Karen Bass, newly elected mayor of Los Angeles, vows to solve housing crisis as homeless population grows

Karen Bass stands at a podium. A sign behind her reads: Karen Bass for mayor.
Karen Bass on election night at the Palladium in Hollywood. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass has defeated billionaire developer Rick Caruso to serve as the next mayor of Los Angeles. Part of her first order of business: the unhoused “crisis” in the city.

Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the U.S., is struggling to address people living in tents, vehicles and shelters and on the streets.

In downtown L.A., Skid Row is lined with tents, one next to another, for blocks. In the beach areas of Venice and Santa Monica, homeless individuals are widespread along the walkways. In Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, tents and people crowd the sidewalks.

Tents set up on sidewalks by homeless people.
Tents line the streets of the Skid Row area of Los Angeles on July 22. (Damian Dovarganes, File/AP)

In her first remarks since the Associated Press called the race Wednesday evening, Bass wasted no time addressing the crippling homelessness issue in L.A.

“I ran for mayor to urgently confront the crises our hometown faces,” the L.A. native said in a statement posted to Twitter. “Tonight, 40,000 Angelenos will sleep without a home — and 5 will not wake up.

“To the people of Los Angeles, my message is this: We are going to solve homelessness,” she said. “Los Angeles is no longer going to be unaffordable for working families — good jobs and affordable housing construction are on the way.”

Caruso released his own statement, tweeting in part: “From my first day as a candidate we relentlessly talked about the plight of the unhoused and the inhumanity of City policies that keep them on the streets, vulnerable and exposed, instead of inside where they can get services they need.”

He said that even though he “came up short in the count,” his campaign made an “indelible impact” on the city.

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso walks across a stage. A sign behind him reads: For the love of L.A.
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso at his election night headquarters in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

One issue underscoring a need for change is the lack of progress from Proposition HHH, a 2016 ballot measure that was overwhelmingly approved by Los Angeles voters. It was intended to build 10,000 housing units within 10 years for homeless people and those at risk of homelessness. It would also fund facilities that provide mental health care and addiction treatment.

But six years later, only 3,420 have been built, with 5,446 under construction, the city says.

Bass has said she will streamline the city’s response to speed up projects receiving funding, with her plan calling for 3,000 units in new buildings constructed under Proposition HHH, according to the Los Angeles Times.

An apartment building funded by Proposition HHH.
Amani Apartments, a Proposition HHH-funded project, on Nov. 10 in Los Angeles. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Bass — who is making history as she becomes the first woman and second Black person elected to the role — said she received a “gracious call” from Caruso, who she said she respects for his commitment to Angelenos.

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office expects to release more votes in the coming days, but the AP considers Bass’s lead “insurmountable.”

Bass’s homeless plan focuses on housing 15,000 people by the end of her first year in office and building more “temporary, affordable and permanent supportive housing.” She also hopes to end street encampments, a massive problem throughout L.A., and focus on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

A homeless person sleeps on the sidewalk outside Los Angeles City Hall.
A homeless person sleeps on the sidewalk at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 19. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A six-term congresswoman and former legislator in the California State Assembly, Bass received endorsements from the highest levels of the Democratic Party, including President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama.

Caruso, a major developer in L.A. who was supported by the Los Angeles Police Department union and Elon Musk, among other notable names, is a former Republican turned independent who eventually switched to the Democratic Party in early 2022 before beginning his run for mayor. He notoriously poured over $100 million of his own money into his campaign, which helped his second-place finish in the primary and polling numbers leading up to the midterm election.

Considering that more than 41,000 people live on the streets of L.A., it’s no surprise that Bass and Caruso made homelessness a major part of their platforms. According to an annual homeless count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the city saw a 1.7% increase in homelessness from 2020 to 2022.

In particular, LAHSA said “one alarming increase” was in the Hispanic/Latino homeless population, which rose from 36% in 2020 to 42% in 2022.

A woman sits with two small dogs on her lap outside a tent.
CeCe Smith spends time with her dogs Papa and Rocco at her encampment along a freeway in the Highland Park neighborhood of L.A. on Oct. 13. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

However, it also said its point-in-time count, which is conducted over three nights in February, showed that pandemic-era policies helped slow the rise of homelessness, with 2018 to 2020 seeing a bigger percentage increase than the past two years.

“During the pandemic, one-time federal assistance and local economic policies like eviction moratoriums and rentals assistance helped keep people in their homes,” the agency said.

“Many of those policies and funding sources are now ending, providing fewer resources for the rehousing system to help those who fall into homelessness.”

Caruso, who pushed to reach Latino communities during his campaign, vowed to activate a state of emergency on “day one” of his mayorship if he won that wouldn’t end until there was enough housing and supportive services for the unhoused. Critics on social media questioned if, since he was able to spend so much of his own money toward his campaign, he could use it to help the homeless himself.

Social media users have also criticized Bass, saying she carries more of the same Democratic policies that got the city to this point in the first place.

Yahoo News has reached out to the Bass campaign for further details on how she will tackle homelessness once she’s sworn in.