Rising rents in Los Angeles county are nothing new. But starving artists and aspiring actors aren’t the only people struggling to afford their rent each month.
Californians working a typical 40-hour per week job would need to make $30 per hour to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, according to data from National Low Income Housing Coalition’s latest Out of Reach report.
Recently, tenants’ rights groups have been organizing, advocating and informing voters on the importance of rent control ahead of the November elections.
California Proposition 10, the Local Rent Control Initiative, is on the ballot in California as an initiated state statute on Nov. 6, 2018. Voters will decide the fate of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act which limits rent control to buildings occupied prior to Feb. 1, 1995 and guarantees landlords “just and reasonable returns” on their rental properties.
If passed, Prop 10 will repeal the restrictions of the Costa-Hawkins Act and allow local governments to enact more comprehensive rent control measures, including tenant-to-
“Last year we started the tenant’s union because we felt there was a great need for it in the community,” said Josh Butler, Executive Director of Housing Long Beach. “Renters don’t realize that we’re actually the majority in this city.”
About half of California rents, according to U.S. Census data. A common refrain from tenants’ right organizers is that many people don’t realize they are in the majority.
“The tenant’s union is a group that’s built on people worried about losing their homes. Two-thirds of the city rents and that number keeps growing,” said Mike Van Gorder, a founding member of the Glendale Tenants Union.
Van Gorder says that one the most common things tenant’s unions address are misconceptions about rent control and what it can accomplish.
“Under rent control there’s still profit,” Van Gorder said. “I’ve had people shout the word ‘socialism’ at me and compare us to North Korea and Venezuela. That’s not what we’re doing.”
Rent control allows landlords to make a “fair return” on their properties but there is no direct formula used to determine what is “fair.” According to the California Supreme Court, “a just and reasonable return” enable operators to maintain their credit, rewards efficient practices, and offers a return similar to comparable investment sectors.
“It’s about a fair return for landlords, the phrase ‘fair return’ is protected by legislation. But, what’s not protected is an absurd return at great cost to the community,” Van Gorder said. “If you’re a responsible landlord, rent control won’t affect your practices at all.”
Rent control just makes it harder for landlords to raise the rent arbitrarily or evict tenants without adequate notice. Rent control advocates say these measures will decrease tenant turnover and boost the local economy.
“Having a rent burden above one-third of your income means you can’t contribute to the local economy and you can’t save money,” Van Gorder said. “For example, West Hollywood has a great local economy and rent control that means people can support their favorite coffee shop, they can have a favorite restaurant and a favorite flower shop.”
High rent a burden
According to a Harvard University study released in late 2013, more than half of Americans spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, which is an all-time high.
For residents living on fixed incomes, such as seniors or people with disabilities, a high rent burden is unacceptable.
“Not everyone has the money or the flexibility to move on a moment’s notice,” said Angel George, who recently got involved with Housing Long Beach. George decided to advocate for tenants’ rights after new management took over the apartment complex where she has lived for four years.
“People who are affected by this feel like they don’t have many rights,” George said. “There are a lot of communities this is happening to.”
George says after the new managers took over in April, they removed the security doors to the building and changed building entry codes without giving notice. But, the bigger issue was the 60-day eviction notices that came without cause, according to George.
“It’s all very legal what they’re doing but it’s not right,” George said. “The investors don’t live here, they don’t work here – they have no idea what the community is about.”
George and many other tenants’ rights advocates believe rent control and Prop. 10 is one way to fight gentrification. Gentrification involves renovating homes and businesses to attract wealthier residents and usually results in the displacement of earlier, poorer residents.
“Of course, the city of Long Beach doesn’t use the term ‘gentrification,’” George said. “They call it ‘community development’ but it’s not for the community, they’re doing it to attract people who can pay higher rents.”
Proposition 10, the Local Rent Control Initiative, will be on the ballot in California on Nov. 6, 2018.