The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

L.A. Homeless Crisis:
New Mayor, Same Old Policies

Jan 9, 2023

When Karen Bass took office as L.A.’s new mayor in December, she said her first act would be to take on homelessness. She declared a state of emergency on homelessness, which the city council immediately approved.

Tens of thousands of people live in the streets of L.A., pitching their tents wherever space is available, including on city sidewalks. The latest official count of the homeless in L.A., taken in September, was about 42,000—a shockingly high number, yet a severe undercount.

Data from the school system may actually give a better idea of just how widespread homelessness really is. Last year, Los Angeles public schools reported that one out of 11 students were homeless.

Among community college students, the figures are even worse. A 2021 memo prepared for the California legislature stated that nearly 20% of students at California’s community colleges reported experiencing homelessness!

The new mayor’s emergency plan, which she calls “Inside Safe,” centers on the master-leasing of housing units by the city. The problem is that everything Bass proposes relies on private companies. It ends up being a big gift for landlords and hotel owners, but not for the homeless.

Look at Proposition HHH, for example, a $1.2 billion city bond measure to build 10,000 new apartments over 10 years for homeless people. The measure passed in November 2016, but five years later, in late 2021, only a little more than 1,000 units had been opened, even though all the money was already committed. The average cost of a unit—a studio apartment—was more than $500,000, with the latest ones costing up to $837,000 each!

In fact, these measures don’t even address the root causes of homelessness: extremely low wages and a severe lack of affordable housing units, which is getting worse, due to gentrification. There is a growing reservoir of the working poor who face the prospect of homelessness. They are literally the loss of one paycheck or one illness from being booted out into the street.

The prospect of homelessness is a chronic problem that comes out of the functioning of the capitalist economic system, in which the profit motive is the driving force of the economy.