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LA Mayor Karen Bass on fighting homelessness and moving forward

Karen Bass (L) speaks after being sworn in as the Mayor of Los Angeles by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris during her inauguration at LA Live in Los Angeles, California, on Dec. 11, 2022. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Karen Bass (L) speaks after being sworn in as the Mayor of Los Angeles by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris during her inauguration at LA Live in Los Angeles, California, on Dec. 11, 2022. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

On her first day in office, Los Angeles’ new mayor Karen Bass talked to Here & Now‘s Deepa Fernandes about fighting homelessness and NIMBY-ism, being in a group of African American mayors leading the nation’s four biggest cities and going forward after personal tragedy.

Interview highlights

On what it means that she declared a state of emergency on homelessness

“It will fast-track through a lot of processes and red tape that result in housing costing so much money and talking so long to build.  In the next couple of days, we’re going to announce another urgent matter, and that is going to be called ‘Inside Safe.’ And that is a city-wide strategy to get people out of tents and into homes.

“The first homes we’re going to look at will be in motels and hotels while temporary and permanent supportive housing is being built. To build anything, even in the best of circumstances, it takes months. We don’t want people lingering on the street while we are getting housing built.”

On her plans to make home buying and renting more affordable

“What we absolutely have to do is build more housing. But we can’t build all the housing in two or three neighborhoods. Everyone in the city is going to have skin in the game. And the best way to do that is for neighborhoods to get together and determine for themselves where housing should be built.

“What I think people object to more than anything is an outside force coming in and redesigning their neighborhoods. There are some neighborhoods I’ve been to where they are very adamant; they do not want apartment buildings mixed in with single family homes. But they point to commercial areas where housing can be built.”

On tensions between African American and Latino communities exposed after conversations leaked including racist comments by Latino city council members 

“I actually reject the notion. Because there is tension between individuals in any community and all communities. I don’t think there is anything particular or special about Black/brown communities, especially in South Los Angeles because Black and brown folks live next door to each other. And there are many of us who have been building alliances with each other for decades. And so, I don’t believe a conversation between four individuals erases work that has been going on for generations.”

On being one of four African American mayors elected to lead the nation’s four biggest cities — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston

“We actually are working together on an op/ed piece that hopefully one of the major national newspapers will pick up. It is very significant and each city is facing very similar problems. But we are beginning to work together right now.”

On coping with personal tragedy after her 23 year old daughter and son-in-law died in a car accident

“I unfortunately belong to a club that many parents belong to who have lost their children. And it colors everything you do in life after that. Your life is profoundly changed forever. And how do I process it? I just know my daughter and son-in-law would fully expect for me to do exactly what I am doing. They would want me to carry on. They would want me to focus on those who have the least among us. And that’s how I’ve led my life. Their presence is still very much alive with me. It makes me sensitive to other parents who have lost their children, and other people who are going through the grieving process. That actually never ends.”


Shirley Jahad produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Jahad also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.