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Rent Control Fight

Graphic by Joyce Yao

As in many cities in Southern California, Pasadena renters face daunting odds. The average rent for a one bedroom unit in Pasadena has risen 51.7% in the past six years, according to the Pasadena Tenants Union (PTU). And 42% of Pasadena households fall in the low-income spectrum, with rent taking 35 to 50% of their income.

At any moment, a renter living in a city without rent control laws can be evicted for no cause with a 30-60 day notice, forcing them to scramble for new housing and even too often raising the spectre of homelessness.

At any moment, a renter living in a city without rent control laws can be evicted for no cause with a 30-60 day notice, forcing them to scramble for new housing and even too often raising the spectre of homelessness.

Led by PTU members, a rent control ballot initiative—“The Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing Charter Amendment”—is being put forward to address these concerns and to advocate for housing as a basic human right. PTU members are currently working to gather signatures to put the initiative on next November’s ballot.

What Does the Charter Amendment Include?

Prevention against rent gouging: At the heart of the amendment is the aim for rent control—limiting the ability for a landlord to increase rent beyond what low-income individuals can afford. The amendment proposes annual rent increases, rather than random and multiple increases in a year. This annual increase would be based on the Consumer Price Index and capped at 4.5%.

Protection for tenants: To protect the most vulnerable and at-risk individuals from becoming homeless, evictions may only occur under “just cause,” defined as lease violations such as non-payment of rent, property damage, or unlawful activity. Currently, landlords can evict tenants for any reason—or no reason at all—creating a lack of housing security for renters. In case of “no-fault” evictions, landlords are required to offer financial relocation assistance—determined at the state level with community input.

Protection for landlords: The creation of a “Rental Housing Board”—with five members appointed by the City Council—will establish regulations, determine the allowable annual rent adjustment, hear individual rent adjustment petitions (a landlord’s request to increase rent more than the annual allowable increase), and go to court to enforce the measure, according to the initiative.

The Board ensures “fair return” for landlords on their investments, including initial costs, maintenance, operating expenses, and compensation for personal labor. The Board also offers landlords the opportunity for mandatory mediation for repairs and information about code compliance.

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A realistic step towards addressing the affordable housing crisis in LA: Treated as a huge feat, rent control could begin to tackle LA’s affordable housing crisis. “The ACLU SoCal has historically supported rent control but also acknowledges that it’s not a panacea, but a stopgap for housing precarity and those most at-risk of being pushed out due to unaffordability,” said Clarissa Woo Hermosillo, a senior ACLU of Southern California staff member.“It must be connected to a larger plan that includes funding and producing subsidized affordable housing and permanent supportive housing.”

A number of factors must be addressed to solve the affordable housing crisis, including increasing the number of available affordable housing units, implementing inclusionary planning, and allowing due process and protection for renters. Until all these factors come together and, according to Michael Rapkin, who leads the ACLU SoCal’s Economic Justice Committee, “until we build thousands and thousands of units, which is a long ways away, rent control is just about the one way to help people stay in their apartments.”

What Is the Charter Amendment Missing?

Regulations for new owners: Currently, after purchasing a building, a new landlord can notify tenants of eviction immediately after the purchase. This is cause for lack of housing security and must be addressed along with rent control.

A long-term plan:Through the Ellis Act that was adopted in 1985, property owners can remove housing units from the market simply by giving tenants notice to vacate. The owners can then repurpose these units through demolition or conversion into condominiums or luxury apartments and hotels.

Currently, landlords use the Ellis Act as a way around just cause for eviction. According to the Coalition for Economic Survival, 22,000 rent controlled units in the city of Los Angeles have been taken off the market using the Ellis Act since 2007. Without modification of this statewide act, maintaining accessible and affordable housing through rent control will be difficult.

Eushrah Hossain

Eushrah Hossain

In all, we can begin to see the positive impact the amendment will have if passed, as well as some of the shortfalls of rent control in addressing long-term affordable housing. The PTU will need more than 12,000 signatures to get Charter Amendment on the November 6th, 2018 ballot. They have begun collecting signatures and are on track to bring the initiative to the community.

Eushrah Hossain

Eushrah Hossain is a senior at Occidental College studying Cognitive Science and Philosophy. She currently serves on the Diversity and Equity Board, a branch of Occidental’s student government, working towards empowerment and improved conditions for structurally marginalized groups on and off campus. Her future goals include advocating for vulnerable individuals as a “Rebellious Lawyer.” Actively applying for job opportunities involving community advocacy in the greater Los Angeles area- please contact ehossain@oxy.edu for inquiries.