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Some voters doubt the Los Angeles mayoral candidates' promises to solve homelessness

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Voters in Los Angeles will elect a new mayor in November. The dominant issue in the campaign is the city's huge homelessness crisis. More than 41,000 people were unhoused at last count, and Anna Scott from member station KCRW talked to voters who are evaluating the candidates' proposed solutions.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: In a lot of ways, this election comes down to which candidates voters trust to solve the homelessness crisis more than any particular promises the candidates are making. For Natalie Seaman, like many voters, housing affordability and homelessness are top concerns.

NATALIE SEAMAN: Thirty years ago, I bought my house for $150,000 as a single woman. People have to be able to do that.

SCOTT: Seaman plans to vote for Karen Bass, a Congress member and Democrat who once led a social justice nonprofit - but not because of anything Bass has said while running for mayor.

SEAMAN: You know, she's being very kind of middle of the road right now, but I look at her values and her background, and those are things that are going to drive my vote.

SCOTT: Bass's opponent is Rick Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer and one-time Republican who registered as a Democrat less than a year ago. Caruso's supporters are just as certain that he's the one who can get the job done, like Ronald Estrada.

RONALD ESTRADA: I think a new perspective, different eyes, newer ideas and more transparency.

SCOTT: And do you have more faith in somebody who's not part of the existing political system to fix...

ESTRADA: At this time, I do.

SCOTT: So what are Caruso and Bass proposing to do about the tens of thousands of people living on the streets of LA? Caruso's big promise is to open 30,000 new shelter beds his first year in office and ban camping on the street. He says he'd go to the feds and the state to pay for it - potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. He also says he'd reorganize the city budget. I asked him if he knows what he'd cut to pay for the beds.

RICK CARUSO: I do. I don't want to get into the details of that.

SCOTT: Caruso's main selling point is the image LA residents have of him as a can-do real estate developer - an outsider to the political system that hasn't solved homelessness.

CARUSO: And with all due respect, the mayor is a product of that system. Congresswoman Bass is a product of that system. So of course, when you're in that system and a product of it, you're not going to be able to find solutions outside that system.

KAREN BASS: It is true he is outside of the system and has spent a lot of time building luxury housing. So why has he not built one unit of affordable housing?

SCOTT: Karen Bass promises that she'll house or shelter 15,000 people during her first year as mayor - though, again, she's unclear exactly where the money would come from. Bass's main selling point is her image as someone with the political connections to bring help from other levels of government and who personally cares about homelessness.

BASS: I do believe that I can make a dent, and I'm not going to accept that I can't. And people in the city and the county have essentially over these years worked to address and reduce the problem, but not with the fortitude of this has got to end.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS ON HIGHWAY)

SCOTT: On a well-kept patch of grass beside the 110 Freeway, CeCe Smith lives in a tent.

CECE SMITH: And these are my dogs here, Roco and Papa.

SCOTT: Given LA's severe shortage of shelter beds and affordable housing, Smith doesn't believe that any politician can quickly move tens of thousands of people indoors.

SMITH: You know what? They've been saying that for a while, and it's not happening. To me, they all lie.

SCOTT: She'd love to talk to Bass or Caruso about solving homelessness, but she knows their campaigns aren't aimed at her. They're focused on LA's most likely voters - those with homes. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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