Will 2018 Be a Year of Rent-Control Revolt in L.A.?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Jason McGahan
L.A. Weekly

The 2018 ballot is shaping up to be a voter referendum on rent control in Los Angeles County. Affordable-housing advocates already have filed a proposed ballot initiative that would allow for the creation of new rent-controlled units in California for the first time in 20 years. And local activists in four cities in Los Angeles County — Inglewood, Long Beach, Glendale and Pasadena — have filed or are preparing to file rent-control ballot initiatives they hope to put before voters in November 2018. "Every day we're getting messages from folks getting priced out," says Nicole Hodgson, a leader of the Pasadena Tenants Union. "We're in a crisis, and we need to act now." The local ballot initiatives aim to create something akin to the city of Los Angeles' Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which limits rent increases (for eligible properties) to 3 percent a year. Renters in Inglewood, Long Beach, Glendale and Pasadena, like renters in the unincorporated areas of the county, have few of the tenant protections enjoyed by their counterparts within L.A. city limits. The Pasadena Tenants Union filed a proposed ballot initiative with the city clerk on Nov. 15, and Hodgson says they hope to begin gathering signatures by mid-December. In September, the median rental value for a home in Pasadena was 17.6 percent greater than in September 2014, according to data from the real estate website Zillow. Housing Long Beach, the group leading the rent-control initiative in that city, will file a proposed ballot measure within the next 10 business days, says Josh Butler, the group's executive director. Zillow's data for Long Beach show a 19 percent increase in median rent between September 2014 and September 2017. "We've seen rents rising in Long Beach — some of the fastest-growing rents in the country — and displacement of long-term residents, including seniors and low-income families," Butler says. Census data from 2014 showed that more than 20 percent of Long Beach residents live in poverty. Inglewood has perhaps the highest-profile cost-of-living increase in Los Angeles. The extension of the $2 billion Crenshaw/LAX Metro line and construction of the $2.6 billion Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District have fueled a rise in housing values — and a median rent increase of 14.5 percent in the past three years. Inglewood also has a head start on the push to implement a rent-control ordinance. The group Uplift Inglewood has filed a petition with the city and is preparing to gather signatures, says a leader of the group, D'Artagnan Scorza. In Glendale, where the median rent has increased 10.7 percent in three years, the newly formed Glendale Tenants Union is seeking legal counsel to craft a rent-control ordinance after the city rejected a prior attempt by a separate group. Mike Van Gorder, a captain of the Glendale Tenants Union, said in an email to the Weekly that the rent-control proposal was brought on partly by "the massive onslaught of 6,000 new 'luxury' apartments in buildings with skincare cream names (the Brio, the Altana, the Onyx, the Lexington, etc.) gentrifying the downtown area and whose lowest unit is a $1,900 studio." He continued: "But the larger part of all that is the general housing crisis — increasing demand, short supply, high prices and few options." At the state level, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation ACCE Action and Eviction Defense Network have filed a proposed ballot initiative to expand California's rent-control laws. The measure calls for the repeal of the controversial Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state law that currently limits rent control to apartment units built before October 1978 and that exempts single-family homes. Beverly Kenworthy, vice president of the California Apartment Association Los Angeles, says the organization is monitoring the new proposals for rent control. “Right now we’re waiting to see what happens, and we’ll certainly get ready to oppose those measures if we need to,” Kenworthy says. In 2016, the California Apartment Association opposed five local ballot initiatives for rent control in Northern California. Ultimately, voters rejected the proposals in Burlingame, San Mateo and Alameda and approved them in Richmond and Mountain View. he CAA opposes rent control and, as an alternative, advocates a streamlining of the approval process for new units and incentives for developers to include affordable units in their buildings. Kenworthy and others say unaffordable rents in Los Angeles stem from a housing shortage. Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies found that Los Angeles is short 382,000 units for extremely low-income renters. Kenworthy pointed to the glut of new apartments downtown — and the recent cooling off of rent increases. "This is the basics of supply and demand," she says. "It's very simple." The Los Angeles Metro area has the second-highest rate of “cost-burdened” renters in the country, according to a recent report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. Being cost-burdened means a tenant is paying more than 30 percent of his or her income for rent, and the report found that category applied to 57.1 percent of Angelenos. Only Miami, at 61.5 percent, had a higher rate. And there may be no end in sight. A recent report from USC and Beacon Economics predicted that monthly rents will increase over 2017 levels by as much as $136 in Los Angeles County by 2019.

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