County supervisors vote in favor of temporary rent ‘freeze’

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Los Angeles County supervisors voted 4 to 1 in favor today of temporarily restricting landlords in unincorporated communities from raising rents more than 3 percent per year.

The so-called rent freeze will have to be voted on again before taking effect. That’s likely to happen in 60 days, and if ultimately approved, it would limit increases to 3 percent per year for six months, using today’s rent levels as the baseline.

(That baseline, proponents say, is critical to stopping landlords from passing big rent hikes ahead of the final adoption.)

It’s a stop gap measure, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said, while county officials mull a permanent rent stabilization ordinance in Los Angeles County, where a housing crisis is helping fuel a scourge of homelessness.

“They’re on the streets because they can’t afford a rent increase,” Kuehl, who authored today’s proposal, said in an interview with KPCC shortly before the hearing.

Los Angeles County has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless people in the U.S., and, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, more than a quarter of those people without shelter fell into homelessness for the first time in 2017.

Nearly half of the 9,205 people experiencing homelessness for the first time said it was due to a loss of employment—or other financial reasons, according to the homeless services authority.

Multiple seniors renting in an apartment complex in East Los Angeles told the Board of Supervisors today they were put on notice that their monthly rents will go up by $350 in November.

“I’m here today to inform you that it’s too much money, and I don’t have enough,” said renter Manuel Galarza, speaking through a translator.

Many renters across Los Angeles are stretched thin.

An analysis from Zillow released last week found that LA renters earning close to the area’s median income have to set aside nearly 47 percent of their paycheck to afford rental payments. That’s the highest amount among all 35 metro areas studied by Zillow, including New York and San Jose.

(The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies those who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing as “cost-burdened.”)

“The lack of affordability” is “unprecedented,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Kuehl said the rent freeze is needed because large corporations are scooping up properties and spiking rents. They care more about big profits, she said, than the wellbeing of their tenants. Because they don’t care, she said, “we will”

But it was mostly “mom and pop” landlords who testified against the proposal, saying that limiting their ability to raise rent at their discretion would stretch their already thin profits.

Janet Gagnon, director of government relations for the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, called the rent freeze a “lethal injection” for mom and pop property owners and likened supervisors to Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

Property owners, she said, “are being clubbed like baby seals.”

Shirley Tatsuno said she and her husband keep rents below market-rate at the apartment building they own in Alhambra. They increase rents only when they pay to renovate a unit after a tenant moves out, she said.

“Rent control for those who have chosen to keep apartments affordable isn’t fair,” Tatsuno said.

Armed with a new study from UC Berkeley, critics also lambasted rent control as ineffective—a claim challenged by other analysts and urban planners.

Vanessa Carter, a senior data analyst at USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, said the county’s proposal would be categorized as a “moderate” form of rent regulation, which increases housing stability but does not discourage developers from building new apartments.

“The housing crisis requires a range of strategies, including increasing the supply of affordable housing,” Carter said. But rent regulation, she added, “is an important tool.”

The freeze would would apply only to unincorporated Los Angeles County, affecting about 200,000 renters, according to Kuehl’s office. Under a state law known as Costa-Hawkins, it would apply only to buildings constructed before 1995 and would exclude condos and single-family homes.

Unincorporated communities include those outside the boundaries of the city of Los Angeles, which has its own rent stabilization ordinance. Examples of unincorporated communities include East LA, Marina Del Rey, View Park/Windsor Hills, and Willowbrook. (Click here for a map of unincorporated Los Angeles).

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