Pasadena Tenants Union Takes Steps Toward Rent Control Ballot Measure

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Andre Coleman
Pasadena Weekly

Following steps taken by tenant advocacy groups in Long Beach and Glendale, a Pasadena group has filed preliminary paperwork to place a rent control initiative on an upcoming ballot.

The Pasadena ballot measure would limit rent increases, force the city to adopt just-cause eviction policies — which limit the reasons a landlord can evict a tenant — and establish an independent rental housing board.

The board would oversee the implementation of the initiative, and its members would be appointed by the City Council. It would also protect residents from harassment and retaliation from landlords and management companies for exercising tenants’ rights.

A proposed measure to repeal a state law that bars rent caps on units built after 1995 could make it easier for cities like Pasadena to enact rent control laws.

“Fifty-six percent of Pasadena residents are renters, and yet we have no housing security in the city,” said Nicole Marie Hodgson of the Pasadena Tenants Union (PTU). “Pasadena has always valued a diverse community, and as a community if we do not have a rental policy that recognizes both tenant and landlord stability we’ll be left with a community that no longer strives to be inclusive.”

The rent for some one-bedroom apartments in Pasadena is as high as $2,200. According to the PTU, the average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Pasadena has risen 51.7 percent in the last six years.

“They are causing flight from Pasadena,” said James Clark who lives in central Pasadena. “I have been here for 38 years. I am a Vietnam vet and a retired English teacher. If I didn’t have a pension I would not be able to live here.”

Clark currently pays $1,300 for his two bedroom apartment. Last year his rent was increased by $100, up from a $75 increase in 2015,

“I have no laundry room,” Clark said. “A tree is about to fall in front of the building and the owner feels it’s the city’s responsibility and the city says the owner needs to cut it down.”

According to Clark, one member of the tenant’s union had her rent raised from $1250 to $1500 in one month. Other people said they were forced from their apartments after the building was sold and the new owner decided to convert the units to condos.

“It placed a financial strain on people and contributes to homelessness,” Clark said. “I don’t want to move to Palmdale or Barstow. This is not right.”

Hodgson also claims the crisis is forcing people out of the city.

“How many neighbors who are renters have disappeared due to the rental-housing crisis? Renters are part of the fabric of Pasadena and we are your neighbors who care for and love Pasadena. Once we are gone, who is left?” Hodgson said.

Only a handful of Southern California cities have rent control ordinances, including Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Rent control efforts started springing up in California over the past two years with local movements slowly gaining steam in Pasadena, nearby Glendale, Long Beach and Inglewood.

Former council member and mayoral candidate Jacque Robinson said she backed rent control in the election two years ago, but she eventually lost to Terry Tornek.

In Glendale and Long Beach, ballot initiatives by tenancy advocacy groups in both areas were rejected last month.

In Glendale, City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian deemed the petition “deficient and invalid” because the text of the ballot measure did not contain the ballot title and summary of the city attorney.

The text of the measure is also not included anywhere in the petition, which is a violation of California Election Code, Kassakhian said. The petition also did not include a declaration by the author.

Making matters worse, a number of sections of the document submitted for review had pages pasted and glued on top of other pages. In addition, sections which had been whited out were filled in again.

City officials in Long Beach deemed that petition incomplete because it did not include the text of the proposed ballot measure as required in the state Election Code.

Rent control advocates in both places say they plan on refilling the paper work.

In Glendale, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has increased over the past year by 10 percent, from $2,000 to $2,200, according to tenant advocates. A one-bedroom apartment in Long Beach goes for $1,700, up 4 percent from last year, according to the Long Beach Business Journal.

“It’s a movement borne of a present crisis,” said Mike Van Gorder, an organizer with the Glendale Tenants Union.

“Home prices are double what are they were 17 years ago. The only other option is to rent. Housing has been commodified too much. This basic human necessity is now concerned more about the market than the people in the homes and it has led to a gigantic crisis.”

Housing advocates last month said they planned to draft an initiative that would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act which barred rent caps on single-family homes and apartments built after that year.

If it passes, local governments would be able to implement rent control on newer properties.

The initiative is being led by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit community organizing group.

The proposed repeal of Costa-Hawkins would: “restore authority to California’s cities and counties to develop and implement local policies that ensure renters are able to find and afford decent housing in their jurisdictions,” it reads.

Backers also claim repeal would “improve the quality of life for millions of California renters and reduce the number of Californians who face critical housing challenges and homelessness.”

Earlier this year, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) was forced to put a bill on hold that called for the repeal of Costa-Hawkins after facing intense pressure from the California Apartment Association.

The apartment association spent $1.5 million last year to quash rent control measures across the state.

The federal government has concluded that rent is not affordable if renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. More than half of California renter households (3 million) pay more than 30 percent and one-third of renter households (over 1.5 million people) pay more than 50 percent of their income toward rent.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Californian earning minimum wage would have to work 92 hours per week in order to afford to rent an average one-bedroom apartment.

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