Priced Into Poverty

Thursday, March 27, 2008
Giselle Acevedo and Paul Freese
Pasadena Weekly

An hour before the doors opened, the line of families waiting in the early morning chill stretched around the corner.

They were waiting for free legal advice at a clinic sponsored by Para Los Niños and key partner organizations to help downtown LA tenants fighting evictions, unlivable conditions and rent increases.

Many were desperate. They were already one paycheck away from homelessness. Their landlords were threatening to evict them and downtown's housing boom was - ironically - helping drive them out of their homes.

The luxurious lofts in the city's core and their upscale residents are creating a more dynamic downtown. At the same time, though, they're driving up rents and driving out working class families who relied on downtown's less expensive apartments.

Since 2000, about 95 percent of new apartments and condos in the downtown area have been luxury units. The higher rents these units command give downtown landlords new incentives to evict existing tenants and renovate their buildings.

Without the preservation and development of affordable rental housing throughout our city, the wheels of progress threaten to run right over our neediest residents.

If these families lose their homes, they must find a new place to live in one of the nation's most expensive - and tightest - rental markets. Rents average more than $1,500 a month and vacancy rates in the area are at 4.5 percent. Plus, they have to come up with the first and last month's rent and a security deposit.

Less than one in five families can afford to buy a median-priced home in Los Angeles. Renters make up 64 percent of the city's population (the highest proportion of renters to homeowners of any big city in the United States) but have been overlooked in the current focus on homeowners losing their houses because of the mortgage crisis.

While the federal government moves to address the home mortgage crisis, there is much our local government can do to protect a much larger number of renters whose homes are also threatened.

Los Angeles has a valuable stock of over 600,000 rent-stabilized apartments that are home to seniors, working families, people with disabilities as well as middle-class renters. Under the city's rent stabilization ordinance, renters are protected from excessive rent increases and unreasonable evictions, while landlords are allowed a reasonable return on their investment.

Our region's leaders ought to be fighting to enforce rent-control laws and against measures such as Proposition 98, which is couched as an eminent domain measure, but actually prohibits rent control in every jurisdiction and phases out existing rent control as tenants leave, are evicted or get harassed out of their units.

In addition, our area leaders should focus efforts on increasing the supply of affordable housing to meet the needs of our residents. They can start with preserving the affordable housing we have by offering financial incentives to renew affordable housing agreements that are expiring.

They can also support reliable regulation of condo conversions and demolitions to keep our workers housed near their jobs, and enforce rent-control laws to prevent renters from being pushed out of their homes illegally.

To develop new affordable housing, the Los Angeles City Council should require developers to devote a certain percentage of their projects to affordable housing or pay a fee for its development. Also, they should take the city's affordable housing trust fund out of the annual budget wrangling process by dedicating a permanent source for those funds.

Los Angeles already has the nation's largest homeless population, and many of us in the nonprofit world are working hard to keep families in their homes.

Our elected leaders should join us in helping those who waited in the cold for free advice and the tens of thousands of others who are a rent increase away from homelessness. By working together to end unreasonable evictions, preserve rental units and increase affordable housing, we can ensure that Los Angeles loses its unwanted distinction of being the nation's homeless capital.

FAIR USE NOTICE.This document may contain copyrighted material the use of which may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Tenants Together is making this article available on our website in an effort to advance the understanding of tenant rights issues in California. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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