Is Mayor Garcetti not urgent enough about housing or held back by bureaucracy?

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Mayor Garcetti, June 2015. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

After news that LA’s homeless population grew by 16% last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti is under increasing pressure to do more about it, and do it quickly. LA Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote this week that Garcetti is failing to address the problem with the urgency it deserves. There's also an online recall attempt.

But Dana Cuff, professor of architecture and urban design at UCLA, says the criticism is misdirected.

"Really when you look at why the housing construction problem has exacerbated so terribly, it's much more at the local level than at the highest levels," she says. "And so it seems ironic to gather petition signatures from the very people who were standing against putting supportive housing in their neighborhood."

Angelenos did approve a tax to create more housing through Proposition HHH and Measure H, and more than one billion dollars are available or in the works. But not much has come out of that money.

Cuff says that about 7000 units are in the pipeline right now, and the first units will be available at the end of 2019. But it's taken too long.

Why the bottle neck? NIMBYism or bureaucracy

Cuff says it’s both. The challenge starts with neighborhood opposition, and considering how complicated a system housing is, there are bureaucratic bottlenecks in many places.

She notes that the cost of building affordable housing has increased substantially, now standing at $550,000 per unit. That's due to tariffs on building materials, competitive construction costs, and the years-long process of getting entitlements to build something.

"We can do it more cheaply when we don't have all the regulations in place that are required for building affordable housing," she says.

Is there a low-cost quick solution?

Cuff says the city should not turn to construction, but use existing buildings, turning them into shelters.

She says 75% of Los Angeles' homeless population lives unsheltered or on the streets, whereas it's 5% in New York.

"Now one of the solutions is to work from, say, the state level. And insist on shelters being built, and more affordable housing being built across the state. And letting local neighborhoods tailor those laws, but not determine where the housing gets built," she says.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy