by Joey Scott
Around 64% of Los Angeles city workers, or about 32,000 people, live outside the city, according to a new report from Los Angeles Controller Kenneth Mejia’s office.
The LA City Controller’s office, which oversees and audits the city’s budgets and operations, says that in 2022, city employees working in LA and living outside the city limits earned $3.6 billion in salaries. The report suggests one of the most likely causes of this is the city’s high housing costs and cost of living. It also offers some suggestions for incentivizing workers to live within the city, including offering housing bonuses to new hires, a program that only the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) currently offers.
Among city departments, the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) have the largest share of employees who live outside city limits. In both departments, only 20% of employees live within the city they serve.
The report also points out that the cities with the largest number of LA city workers residing there have some of the closest commutes. Long Beach, Whittier, and Inglewood are the top three cities that house LA city workers, with Santa Clarita not far behind. A staggering 500 LA city employees also live out of state. Seventy-eight city employees live in Idaho, and over 50 employees live in Texas and Tennessee each.
The $3.6 billion in city worker salaries leaving the city means that there is less spending within the city (in shopping, rent, and property taxes) and fewer tax dollars that are reinvested into the city. The controller says this loss hinders LA’s ability to fully fund resources and services that Angelenos depend on, demonstrating yet another way that the housing affordability crisis is affecting LA.
The controller’s report offered some solutions to this problem. For one, the city could continue the “Targeted Local Hire” program, which provides eligible LA city residents with on-the-job training for entry-level city jobs. The report also suggests that the city grow the program to include job pathways beyond entry-level positions, arguing this would open opportunities for Angelenos and could help the city find workers to fill the one out of six city jobs that are vacant.
Another option that the Controller’s Office offers in order to keep city employees within LA is to grow existing hiring incentives that help recruit more workers. With housing costs in LA as high as they are, the city could also look to other cities for inspiration. For example, Little Rock offers new municipal workers $5,000 to help them buy a home or $2,500 to help pay rent. A similar hiring incentive program already exists for the LAPD; the “Housing for Hires” program gives new LAPD hires up to $25,000 to cover housing costs for two years.
To reduce high housing costs, the city could follow what Virginia’s Fairfax County did and help build affordable housing for city and non-city workers. The housing built on county-owned property provides 270 units of low to moderate-income housing next to the county’s government offices.
The Controller’s Office suggests that implementing such policies and keeping and recruiting city workers to live in LA would bolster the city’s budget and help fill chronically vacant city positions.
“We were inspired by constituent requests as well as our Office’s interest in providing financial transparency on the potential reinvestment of tax dollars in the local economy and helping policymakers make working and living in our City more favorable,” Diana Chang, communications director for Kenneth Meija’s office said constituent’s requests for the data and their office’s focus on providing financial transparency were what inspired the creation of this report. The Controller’s office hopes the data will help inform policymakers on where the city’s money is going and find ways to keep those salaries in Los Angeles.
The Controller’s Office says the continual affordable housing, better transit options, and hiring incentives will keep city workers in LA and also benefit Angelenos already working and living in the city. The full report can be found here.