In summary

Liam Dillon and Ben Oreskes of the L.A. Times interview Mayor Karen Bass about homelessness and housing problems in California.

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The housing crisis in California is inseparable from the number of unhoused people in the state. California has the largest homeless population in the United States, and Los Angeles County has the most homeless folks within California. 

None of that is lost on Karen Bass, the newly elected mayor of Los Angeles. She spoke with L.A. Times reporters Liam Dillon and Ben Oreskes about the California housing crisis, the homeless population in Los Angeles and the state, and gave her opinion on related topics like gentrification and Proposition 13. 

Here’s a snippet of the interview which has been edited for clarity and length. 

Liam Dillon: So we’re going to move to what I’m sure is going to be the favorite part of this interview for you, Mayor Bass. We’re going to do a bit of a lightning round. So we’re going to give you a series of statements where you can only answer true or false. But we will allow you to add a few more words afterwards to explain your your point of view. 

So I’ll jump off with the first one here: Rent control is a necessary part of a functioning housing system in high cost cities like Los Angeles to protect tenants. 

Mayor Karen Bass: True.

LD: Do you want to add anything? Do you think it should be expanded in the city? 

KB: I would just say true. I mean, we have to have rent control. People are being priced out. And then, you know, some landlords are doing bad things like, ‘We can’t get rid of the tenants because of rent control, so I’m going to let the building completely deteriorate so it becomes unlivable and then they move.’

And I’ve experienced that a lot as a member of Congress in the constituent complaints. 

Ben Oreskes: We’ve touched on this one, so I’m hopeful it will be an easy one for you: The primary cause of homelessness is not mental health or drug abuse issues, nor is it poverty. Rather, the primary cause is the cost and availability of housing. 

KB: Yes, that’s true. I will say more. It is a stereotype to think that everybody that is unhoused has a mental health issue. Clearly, there’s a percentage that do. But let me just tell you something. If I was on the street long enough, I’d have a mental health or substance abuse issue, too. 

BO: And there’s ample number of studies that show that it gets worse as you stay on the street, I would add, too. Yeah. 

KB: Sure. 

LD: All right. Let me jump to the next one: The construction of market rate homes in disadvantaged areas does not cause gentrification or displacement, but instead prevents it. 

KB: That’s false. That’s completely false. I’m sorry. 

BO: Say more about that. 

KB: Well, I mean, the area that I lived in until a few weeks ago in South L.A., there is no question of market rate housing. People who paid $150,000 for their homes. If you put a market rate house next door, it’s going to be close to $1,000,000. 

LD: So explain a little more about how you believe that that drives that gentrification and drive displacement. 

KB: Well, because, you know, the people that live in that neighborhood, let’s say you want to move… to another house in the same neighborhood. You can’t afford it if it’s market rate. The other thing that happens is … you know, you have people selling their homes. And I understand that. I mean, the house I lived in, I got offers all the time. Cash will give you money for your house. So I watched the elders in my neighborhood sell their homes, but then their kids couldn’t come back to the neighborhood. But how do I tell them not to walk away with over $1,000,000? You know what I mean? 

To hear more of the interview with Bass, including her thoughts on Prop. 13, listen to this week’s episode of Gimme Shelter.

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Richard Procter is the assistant editor at CalMatters, leading coverage of housing, education and technology. Prior to joining CalMatters, he was the editor-in-chief of SF Weekly and the special projects...