California’s housing crisis has taken decades to develop, and it will take years to fully solve. In the short term we must pursue policies that stop the cycle of debt and criminalization. California can bring immediate relief to our neighbors who are suffering, we are only lacking political will.
We are making progress, but it’s not enough.
Despite gains in transitioning people from living on the street to housing, we are seeing more Angelenos ending up homeless year over year. In 2018, the city of LA was able to house 21,000 people, but saw a net increase of 16% in homelessness.
In 2016 Measure H and Measure HHH each secured more than a super majority to create new funding for permanent supportive housing. $1 billion over 10 years on the county level and $1 billion over 10 years on the city level. It was estimated that the city of LA would build 10,000 permanent supportive housing units in that span of time.
Mayor Garcetti tried to buttress these proposals with his A Bridge Home plan, which requires each City Council district build one temporary shelter to provide emergency relief while services and permanent arrangements were made.
It’s incredibly bizarre to me that right after the homeless count comes out, the council would take up a motion like this which seems dead set at kicking the poorest when they’re down. The people that are harmed by these [towing] practices are the most vulnerable who are already in situations where they run the risk of falling into homelessness. – Ace Katano, LA County Public Defender
So far, all of these plans have failed to live up to their promise.
Instead of 10,000 units of housing, LA will (probably) only build 6,000. And even that prediction may be too rosy. As time passes, the cost per unit increases and the number of units drops. It took nearly 1,000 days for the city to open 1 permanent supportive housing facility.
Bridge shelters are also stalled across the city. Despite the supposed ease to open and low costs to maintain these shelters, only 3 have opened.
Moreover, each bridge shelter brings increased policing. Mayor Garcetti pledged $30 million to fund the shelters, but he also pledged $29 million to police the areas around them. For anyone unable to secure a bed, the city is not promising help: it is promising sweeps, theft of personal property, and jail cells.
We simply are not building shelters and permanent housing as fast enough. There are too many roadblocks to creating new capacity, and it is killing our neighbors. Last year 918 people died living on the streets of LA.
The lack of shelter options has left many Angelenos with only one option: living in their vehicles. Be it their car or RV, many have opted for the only shelter available.
It is time for California to embrace ideas that will bring immediate relief to our neighbors.
Our housing and eviction crisis is rooted in the increasing cost of rent and declining wages. Since 2000, the median rent in Los Angeles rose 32% and the median wage dropped 3%. We tie rent increases to inflation, but wages don’t have a guaranteed increase. As full time employment is harder to come by and gig work dominates new hires, the average worker does not have the purchasing power to afford even a modest apartment.
This has brought us to a point where an estimated 600,000 people in LA County are paying 90% of their income in rent alone. Rent that doesn’t earn them a tax deduction. Rent that doesn’t build equity. Rent that competes with food and healthcare costs.
We need long term solutions like rent control and public housing to truly address this crisis, but in the meantime there are short term policies that can bring relief.
AB 516 has proven to be a lightning rod for opposition from homeowners and LA politicians. The bill would make it harder for cities to tow and impound vehicles that are left parked for more than 72 hours, that have accumulated parking tickets, or that have expired registration. As the housing and eviction crisis has escalated, so has the number of people relying on their vehicle for shelter.
In LA, 16,500 people are estimated to be living in their cars. This includes working families and people who were economically stable just a short while ago. Pushed out of their homes by increased rents and stagnant wages, many people have only their car left. Squeezed by the high costs of being unhoused, people cannot afford to pay every parking ticket or renew their registration on time.
The city’s opposition to AB 516 puts them in danger by criminalizing them, seizing their assets, and using lien sales to recoup the cost of impound. Not only will the city take your car, they will sell it and pocket the proceeds!
AB 516 would provide a measure of protection for people left in this situation. It’s not perfect. Too many of our neighborhoods lack adequate parking, but this is because LA has more cars than households, not because our neighbors living in their cars are a unique burden.
Safe Parking LA has been offering people living in the vehicles safe accommodations, but the need is greater than the demand. Currently, only about 300 spaces are available. There are plans to expand, but those would only add another 300 spaces. Without aggressive funding from the state the need will not be met.
The state legislature declined to move forward on bills that would protect tenants, cap rents, and reform Costa-Hawkins. Instead of building a foundation of equity, we will see at least two more years of increasing rents, increasing evictions, and increasing homelessness. We can’t turn out backs on short term solutions that can alleviate suffering. We have to act now.
AB 516 and Safe Parking are good ideas that can be implemented quickly. Either will take some of the pressure off our unhoused neighbors. But, like all of these solutions, they are coming far too late. Too many people have died, too many people are suffering, too many people have lost their homes because of political inaction.
It’s time to be bold and demand real action. Every day that we delay means that 3 more Angelenos will die.
The Point in Time homelessness count is the most important data that has been produced in Los Angeles this year. LA County saw a 12% increase from 2018, meaning that 58,936 of our neighbors are sleeping without permanent shelter on any given night. LA City was worse, seeing a 16% increase with 36,300 of our neighbors living without permanent shelter. These increases came despite gains in housing people. Our leaders are pushing sweeps as the solution, when what our neighbors need are services.
Our housing crisis is killing us.
The evidence is everywhere. On Skid Row in Los Angeles, 14,000 homeless persons were arrested in 2016, including for urinating in public and other “quality of life” offences, while overall arrests in the city were declining. For those wondering what the problem is, the answer is not hard to find. In 2016 there were only nine public toilets available for some 1,800 homeless individuals on Skid Row. The resulting ratio of one public toilet per 200 individuals would not even meet the minimum standards the UN sets for Syrian refugee camps. – Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
In 2018, Los Angeles was able to house more than 21,000 people. This is a big increase over 2017 when 17,000 people were able to transition into housing. But this isn’t enough to keep up with the number of people who are losing housing.
This crisis has a body count. 918 people died on the streets of LA last year. That’s 2.5 people per day. In the span of your work day one person will die, needlessly.
Living without shelter guarantees that you will have contact with the police. Overall crime and arrests have dropped in the last decades. Except for people without housing. Arrests of the unhoused increased 30% in 2018. Overall, LAPD made 14,000 arrests of unhoused Angelenos in 2018. To make matters worse, 30% of LAPD’s uses of force were against people who have no place to live.
The city of LA has a population of about 4 million. 36,300 (at the minimum) live without permanent shelter. That’s 0.9% of our population. And yet LAPD targets them for harassment, violence, and arrest more than anyone else.
Race plays an outsized role in this crisis. Black Angelenos are about 11% of the city’s population, but 38% of those without permanent shelter. This mirrors the racialized policing tactics that we see across the city. LAPD is far more likely to arrest or kill someone if they are black than any other demographic.
Instead of offering help, our politicians play the blame game.
Sensational headlines spanned the globe last year when a typhus outbreak was reported in downtown Los Angeles. Initial reporting linked the disease to large encampments around downtown, specifically the community of Skid Row. Despite the fact that this chain of events made no sense, politicians sprung into action to call for more sweeps, more harassment, and more arrests.
Once the initial shock wore off the real facts surfaced. Typhus infected fleas had infested city hall, carried by rats who took up residence because of LA’s poor maintenance of its own buildings. In fact LAPD was recently fined for failing to maintain a clean and safe office. At least one LAPD employee was sickened and one City Hall employee is suing the city because of her illness.
This “medieval” outbreak didn’t come from Skid Row, it came from City Hall’s negligence. But there is a public health crisis on the streets of LA. Tens of thousands of people are left without basic hygiene facilities. Showers, toilets, garbage pick up, food storage, basic first aid, clean clothes, laundry facilities; the list of needs goes on.
Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited Los Angeles while studying homelessness in America. His report back to the UN is a scathing indictment of how LA is handling this crisis. Our lack of compassion is clearly visible in places that would not even meet the standards of refugee camps in war zones.
We demand services, not sweeps.
Los Angeles currently uses a complaint driven model that privileges people who own property over those who are unhoused. Using the city’s 311 system business owners, homeowners, and tenants can call to give the location of encampments and bulky trash. These calls trigger a multi-part process. First, the Bureau of Sanitation sends out a team to the location to confirm the report.
If they confirm an encampment, then the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) conducts outreach. This outreach is supposed to offer housing and health services, but result in very few placements in permanent or temporary shelter. A notice is posted in the area announcing that a sweep will happen sometime in the next 24 to 72 hours. Last, Bureau of Sanitation workers, accompanied by armed police officers, arrive to clean the area.
Reports from DSA-LA Streetwatch have shown that this model rarely matches reality. Sweeps can be unannounced. Often, the cleaning only serves to throw out people’s possessions, leaving the sidewalks unwashed. Private capital like scooters are left in place, despite blocking access and creating obstacles for ADA access.
When the targets of these sweeps complain they are threatened with arrest. If they have more possessions than can fit in a 60 gallon plastic bag, the police and sanitation workers will arbitrarily decide what they can keep. Tents are supposed to be left alone, but unattended tents will be thrown out. Sanitation workers will use discarded food as an excuse to declare a tent a health hazard, giving them cover to throw out someone’s only shelter.
Under an agreement with the federal courts in Jones v. Los Angeles, the city is supposed to make sure that they are not throwing out vital documents or medications. But we know that this happens all the time. Joe Reyes lived on the streets of Koreatown, where he worked odd jobs to earn money.
He was a longtime resident of the neighborhood before high rents forced him out of his apartment. While away from his tent, a sweep was conducted. Workers threw out his possessions, including medications that he needed for a heart condition. Two weeks later, Joe was dead from his heart issues.
This complaint driven model is inhumane and deadly. The City of Los Angeles, as well as every other city in the state, must adopt a service driven model.
But what does this model look like?
Showers, both permanent and temporary installed in areas with proven need.
Empty trash, much like you receive weekly trash pickup.
Restrooms, both permanent and temporary.
Vector control, to stop the spread of illness through rodents and insects.
Internet, access to communication and information are human rights.
Cleaning supplies, so that people can maintain their space and retain their dignity.
Electricity, to provide a basic standard of living.
Sharps containers, to keep individuals safe and provide basic medical access.
Until the city adopts a policy based on dignity and compassion people will die, every day. Police and sanitation workers are not qualified to offer assistance. Destroying possessions and making arrests further traumatizes people already under pressure. We know what will solve this crisis: housing and services.
At the state level, we see anemic solutions. Governor Brown pledged $300 million to homeless services, less than 15% of what LA County and LA City pledged under Measures H and HHH. Governor Newsom has empaneled a new commission that simply recreates work already being done. We need real solutions. There are simple steps that can be taken now to lessen the suffering.
Groups like Koreatown for All, Nolmypics LA, Shower of Hope, Invisible People, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), Ground Game Los Angeles, and too many others to name, are working on the ground now. They need the support of our government and they need our help to reclaim the narrative. Human dignity must come first.
The 2019-2020 California legislature session started out promising. But the last couple of weeks have seen bold ideas crushed by powerful lobbies. Bold ideas to protect renters went up only to have their teeth removed.
The real estate lobby still dominates California.
2018 was the year of the renter. Across California millions mobilized to collect signatures, knock doors, and vote for Proposition 10. Since 1996, California has been dominated by Costa-Hawkins. This bill, put forward by the landlord lobby and passed in a rush, has stopped cities from passing any kind of rent protection for more than 20 years.
It was a direct reaction to the City of Santa Monica wanting to update rent control. Along with the Ellis Act, it has lubricated the eviction machine. Landlords are free to push rent as high as they want to drive out tenants. If that doesn’t work, they can use Ellis to kick out everyone as long as they meet certain conditions. Coupled with the rise of Airbnb, cities across the state are seeing some of the nation’s worst eviction rates.
Even though Prop 10 lost, it was popular in big cities, where the majority of California’s 17 million renters live. Big counties like San Francisco and Alameda voted yes for rent control. So did Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city.
But that wasn’t enough to overcome the nearly $100 million that was spent to oppose it. Some of the wealthiest men in the nation put down big money to protect their profits. Corporate landlords like Blackstone, and infamous billionaires like Sam Zell and Donald Sterling (yes, that same Donald Sterling who was deemed too racist to own the Clippers) funded a misinformation campaign.
Our legislators were listening and saw the support for Prop 10. Multiple bills to rein in sky rocketing rent and protect tenants were put forward.
- AB 36: Would expand rent control to any building that has been a rental property for more than 10 years.
- SB 529: Would have guaranteed tenants the right to organize without fear of retaliation, compelled landlords to negotiate, and allowed tenants to withhold rent under certain conditions.
- AB 1481: Would end no cause evictions in California.
- AB 1482: Would impose a statewide rent cap by limiting rent increases to inflation plus 5%.
And then they were systematically gutted in favor of landlords.
AB 36 originally applied to any building that was 10 years old or more, then it was amended to push that back to 20 years or more. We know that a significant amount of development has happened in the last decade. These buildings have high rents and have driven gentrification at a brutal pace. It passed the California Senate and will be moving to the Assembly. But it will do nothing to force new developments to be affordable.
SB 529 was hailed by tenant groups across the state as a landmark piece of legislation. Rent strikes have become increasingly popular as a way to force slumlords to the table. But these actions are risky for tenants. In Los Angeles, buildings covered under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance have some protections. This process is called REAP, the Rent Escrow Account Program. Under REAP tenants suffering substandard conditions no longer pay rent to the landlord, instead they pay it into an escrow account controlled by the city until the landlord fixes the problems. After the rent strike provision was removed completely, SB 529 went to the Senate floor on May 29th, and lost by 1 vote. It needed 21 votes to pass, but 3 Senators cast no vote at all, leaving only 20 Ayes. Two of the abstainers are Democrats.
AB 1481 was originally written to keep people in their homes by forcing landlords to prove that they had a good reason to evict. After a round of amendments to bill is no longer about stopping evictions, it now simply charges landlords a fee to evict. Depending on how long a tenant has lived in the building, the landlord has to pay them either two or three months rent to get them out. While this sounds reasonable, if you are living in a building and paying low rent what you receive will probably not be enough to cover the cost of a new apartment. And big corporate landlords, who are becoming larger every day, can easily afford the fee and then pass that cost along to the next tenant. It also added a sundown provision so the law would effectively repeal itself in 2030.
AB 1482 originally limited any rent increases to inflation plus 5% and would impose a hard limit of 10%. In a bit of good news it expanded protections for affordable housing covenants giving local governments the chance to buy these buildings to keep them affordable. Then, and apparently at the author’s request, it was inexplicably amended to sundown in 2030. While 10 years of rent control is better than no rent control there is no reason to end these protections. AB 1482 passed the Assembly, but it’s fate in the Senate is uncertain.
Throughout this process the heavy hand of the landlord lobby was seen in everything. The California Association of Realtors and California Apartment Association worked hard to trim protections. They demanded 3 year limits, negotiated weaker language, and used the threat of campaign donations to sway votes.
In the end, the landlord lobby won. Instead of 4 strong bills that would protect tenants across the state, we have two watered down bills that have another crucible to negotiate and two bills that are effectively dead for this session.
We can’t ignore the obvious: our legislators are mostly property owners. Only 1 member of the California legislature does not own their own home. And 60% of our elected representatives are landlords. We don’t have tenants in power and without those voices we will never see the kind of legislation that we need.
We’re running to not just rein in rent and stop the eviction machine. We’re running to build public housing. We’re running to build density to achieve sustainability. We’re running to expand public transit. And we’re running to create a Green New Deal to provide good paying, clean jobs for everyone in California.
Rent gouging is putting families at risk and reshaping our communities.
Imagine waking up one day and finding that your rent is going to double. What would you do? Could you afford twice as much for rent with only 1 month to plan? For many families this nightmare is a reality.
Many buildings in Los Angeles are protected from this by our Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). Passed in 1978, the RSO caps yearly rent increases to about 3% a year and protects renters from no-cause evictions. These protections allowed many tenants to stay in their homes despite housing prices rising around them. But in 1996 the California legislature passed a law called Costa-Hawkins.
Costa-Hawkins was pushed through the Assembly and Senate by developers, and even then it barely won a majority. Costa-Hawkins stopped any city in California from passing new rent control laws. It also froze any existing rent control laws at the date it was first passed. That means that only apartment buildings built before 1978 in Los Angeles are protected. To make things even harder on working families, Costa-Hawkins outlawed rent control on any single family homes.
For 22 years this law went unchallenged. That is, until Proposition 10 was put on the ballot to repeal Costa-Hawkins. If passed it would have allowed cities to pass new renter protections and returned local control to the people most effected. Unfortunately, it did not win. Los Angeles and San Francisco both voted in favor of Prop 10, because tenants knew how much it would help.
Since then we have seen landlords across the city using massive rent increases to push out tenants they don’t want. There’s a land rush in LA and landlords want to clear out working families to make way for wealthier tenants.
In 2018 the Burlington tenants went on the largest rent strike in LA history. The strike started when they were suddenly hit with increases that nearly doubled their rent. Working families and seniors on fixed incomes were faced with a sudden crisis. Fight the landlords to save their homes or try to find a new place to live immediately.
With the help of the Los Angeles Tenants Union and the Eviction Defense Network they formed Burlington Unidos. Even by pulling together as a community they weren’t able to save every home. Each unit had to go through a separate eviction proceeding, most of the tenants prevailed but some did not. After 6 months on rent strike the landlords canceled the rent increases and agreed to negotiate.
This rent increase was defeated, but not without cost. Months of worry and thousands of dollars were spent to fight this greed.
In Chinatown, families at the Hillside Villa apartments are looking at the end of their affordable housing covenant. These covenants last for 30 years, guaranteeing affordable rents and protections. In exchange for keeping rents low, the landlord is offered tax incentives. But even these incentives haven’t kept the landlord honest.
While the building continues to degrade, wealthier renters have been moved in at market rate, but the tax incentives are still claimed. Some of these families were displaced from downtown to make way for the Staples Center. Having survived one forced eviction, they are fearful of losing another home.
Pleas to the city for protection have gone unheeded, but by working with the Los Angeles Tenants Union they have won some legal victories. These wins are tenuous, the landlord doesn’t have to sign a new housing covenant. But these wins have only come through organizing and building community.
It’s amazing that these tenants and organizers have had the courage to organize. That when faced with displacement they fought for their homes and won. But it shouldn’t be this way.
California can stop this from ever happening again if the Assembly and Senate pass AB 1482. Authored by Assemblyman David, AB 1482 steps in where Proposition 10 couldn’t. It caps yearly rent increases to 5% plus the increase in cost of living. In most cases that would mean inflation.
This would mean that tenants could still see increases as high as 8%, based on current inflation. But that is far more manageable than 50% or 100% increases. Combined with other bills before the state legislature this year there is hope for tenants. Now we need to hold our Assembly Members and State Senators accountable.
You can take action now!
Call your representatives, tell them you support tenants, and that they must vote Yes on AB 1482.
Tenants work hard to pay the rent, but landlord greed threatens their homes. We have to stand with tenants and make housing a human right.
California tenants need the right to organize.
Our housing crisis is an eviction crisis. Tenants are not only facing steep costs to move into a new home. They are also facing threats from massive rent increases, Ellis act evictions, and short term rental schemes. In short, tenants are under siege by the forces of capital.
“You are putting humans out on the street with nowhere to go.” – Robert Evans, Expo Tenant
Tenants work hard to pay the rent, working two or even three jobs. But landlords can evict tenants for no reason at all, putting families on the street. A landlord with enough money to own an apartment building has enough money to afford a lawyer. Working tenants don’t have the money to afford an expensive trial.
Too often this is a lonely fight. Each tenant is trying to protect their home by themselves. It’s scary facing an uphill battle that may cost you your home.
These numbers don’t even count the people who choose to move because their stagnant wages make staying unaffordable. Families are moving out of LA in record numbers because they can’t raise their children in a city where costs rise while workers earn less.
Eviction and displacement stories are too common.
The Ellison is a rent controlled building in Venice. Since it first opened it has provided affordable housing for people from all walks of life: teachers, nurses, and artists. It was a quintessentially Venice place to live. That is until Lance Robbins bought the property.
Robbins is probably one of LA’s worst landlords. He’s been sued by the city many times for failing to maintain his buildings and has been called a slumlord by at least one judge.
“If you are wondering why the rental housing market in a place like Venice Beach is so tight, look no further than your nearest laptop. Fire it up and find dozens of websites advertising hotels and houses ‘just steps from the sand.'” – Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
The demand for hotel rooms in Venice climbs every year. Robbins and his management company can charge hundreds of dollars a night, pocketing obscene profits. Instead of 57 units of affordable housing, The Ellison is now home to only a handful of residents. The rest of the units are now hotel rooms, the courtyard is a de facto lobby, and weekly public events bring party goers enticed with free wine tastings.
Most of the long term tenants chose to leave on their own. Why would you continue to pay rent to live in poor conditions? Years of neglect left the elevator broken, walkways unusable, and ceilings deteriorating. No matter how much they asked for repairs, building management did nothing. Faced with a dilapidated building and a hostile landlord it seemed like the only choice.
Others decided to stay and fight for their homes. But it has been a very long road. Despite years of complaints, lawsuits, and orders from the city to stop; Robbins has continued his quest to pocket as much money as possible at the expense of tenants’ health and wellbeing.
The tenants that stayed have only been able to because they organized, and even then it has taken an incredible amount of courage. They still pay the rent on time every month. They help each other navigate the broken building to deliver groceries and make doctor’s appointments. It looks like the city might finally bring them some relief, but it has taken far too long.
They are not alone, demand for new expensive housing makes tenants across the city targets.
Along the Expo Line corridor rent prices have spiked and longtime residents have been forced out. 7 buildings adjacent to the University of Southern California were sold to Chung Suk Kim and Hae Jung Kim in 2018. Instead of meeting their tenants, they immediately posted eviction notices.
“They are, in short, a developer’s dream come true: the perfect land grab in the never-ending game of speculative development.” – Jacob Woocher, KNOCK.LA
It didn’t matter that these tenants were up to date on the rent or had raised their families there, it only mattered that that landlords wanted to turn the biggest profit they could. LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance didn’t cover the buildings, so the tenants had no legal protections from eviction.
They organized and fought, but in the end they lost. 80 people lost their homes without protection under the law. Now those units rent for $3,000 a month.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Senator Elena Durazo has introduced Senate Bill 529 (SB 529) that will give tenants the right to organize tenant associations, withhold rent for poor conditions, and protect them from retaliation. This is a complex crisis and it requires a complete solution.
Right now, SB 529 is being debated in the California Senate and it is target number 1 for landlords and developers. The forces of capital are fighting as hard as their money can to stop tenants from organizing and gaining legal protections.
Housing is seen as a way for landlords to earn income, not as a place for people to live. We need to change this, we need to make housing a human right.
We’re committed to seeing these protections enshrined in law. You can make sure that happens.