“Renters Make LA Work. It’s Time to Make LA Work for Renters.”
Within a day after Mayor Eric Garcetti presented his plans for revitalizing Los Angeles during his first term, media coverage of affordable housing issues—a topic conspicuously left out of his agenda—spread across news outlets. “Californians can’t afford their rents,” read the first line of an L.A. Times article about a new bill designed to combat the trifecta of insurmountably high rents, minimal job and income growth, and evaporating funding for subsidized housing. Another alarming quote from that same piece: “We have a real crisis on our hands,” according to state Senator Mark DeSaulnier.
Unfortunately, the legislation, SB 391, isn’t likely to pass easily given the push back from the real estate industry. Meanwhile, evictions from rent-controlled apartments are also on the rise, as are rental units that are actually creating health risks for tenants who live in them, and the number of people who are in need of low-income housing.
On April 23, renters from across the city spoke out at a rally held on the steps of city hall—a rally that brought out over 250 folks from neighborhoods including South Los Angeles, Little Tokyo, and Boyle Heights, who all shared their own stories about how untenable being a tenant in Los Angeles is these days. “I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 18 years, and it’s never been this bad or this hard to afford a place to live,” said Leonard Woods, a renter in Downtown Los Angeles, during the press conference that followed the rally. “Something must be done. We need our City Council members to step up because people are working too hard just to see their families struggling so much.”
The rally, deemed the first “Renters’ Day,” was organized by groups including the Los Angeles Community Action Network and the Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective in the midst of the release of staggering housing-related statistics. For starters, more than half of California renters can’t reasonably afford their homes, according to a recent study conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. Along those lines, the website Curbed LA reported that if that home is a two-bedroom apartment, you need to make on average, $27/hour in order to even qualify to rent it. That means the bottom-end annual salary requirement to live in a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is about $50,000.
Even previously rent-controlled units are moving toward extinction, as landlords are opting to sell their properties to new developers who then raze the buildings so they can raise rents in new higher-end complexes. It’s a legal move authorized by the Ellis Act, which requires owners to leave the real estate business, or demolish their apartments, in order to eliminate rent control. It’s also more lucrative to demolish rent-controlled buildings than to simply sell them to another landlord. In the last year, over 350 rent-controlled units were removed from the market—40 percent more than in the previous year—says the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment department in a recent release.
And those who absorb the cost are tenants, the very folks who rent-control was intended to protect when it was first instituted in the 1970s. At the same time, state and federal funding for low-income housing has decreased by 79 percent in the past five years. On a local level, “there are seniors who wait eight to 10 years for subsidized housing,” claimed Manok Cha, a member of the Korean Resource Center when speaking at an economic justice rally last month.
“As renters comprise 65 percent of city residents, economic recovery can’t and won’t occur until a solid safety net is implemented that takes into account their needs and the displacement of renters at all levels starts to rescind,” said Council member Cedillo during the Renters’ Day rally.
“Renters make LA work,” he added. “therefore, we need to make LA work for renters.”