LOS ANGELES – In case you haven’t heard, our national and local economies are in the worst shape since the Great Depression. Jobs have been lost. Unemployment benefits are beginning to expire for millions of people who managed to get them. Tax receipts are down. Our industries are in shambles. Government is forced to cut services as public assistance programs have tapped out.
Los Angeles is experiencing its worst ever epidemic of homelessness, an emergency that will be inflamed by a looming spike in evictions.
That spike in evictions will most definitely result in a cascade of social problems, too many to name here — and the impact on the already-strained LGBTQ community safety net is unimaginable.
There are no easy answers. But shockingly California Gov. Gavin Newsom is siding with the big real estate developers, even though a recent audit by out gay Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin found construction costs for each new affordable housing unit inflated up to $531,000 per unit, and in the case of two projects, $750,000 per unit. That’s very expensive affordable housing when rehabbing an old motel might work for now, as Galperin suggests.
But there certainly are political fixes that can help right the ship and change laws that currently offer little protection for those who are housing vulnerable.
Enter Proposition 21, an initiative that would amend Costa-Hawkins and allow California’s cities to adopt better rent protections.
Costa-Hawkins is a law that prohibits California cities that did not have rent control laws in place from applying rent control on apartments built after 1995. For Los Angeles, which had existing controls before Costa-Hawkins, the law applies to apartments built after 1978.
Proposition 21 proposes to change the law to cover apartments older than 15 years, increasing the inventory of regulated units. Some say the change would spur the construction of new developments for a city that, at least prior to the pandemic, was expected to grow exponentially.
Proposition 21 would also allow implementation of rent controls on some single-family homes and condos, but exempts mom and pop and other small landlords who own up to two properties.
Proposition 21 would end “vacancy decontrol,” preventing landlords from automatically moving rent controlled apartments to market rates when a rent controlled tenant moves out.
Proposition 21 seeks to put the brakes on costly rent increases.
The Los Angeles Blade agrees that renters need more protections in California’s expensive housing market and the proposition would afford local governments the ability to expand more of those protections.
Manhattan, with its dozens of empty billionaire towers, is a prime example of what happens when a city favors the creation of housing to attract only the 1 percent of the world’s population with only “poor door” regard for affordability. Los Angeles likes to think of itself as a similarly booming real estate market, but so much of it is aspirational fantasy. Aspirational folk are often checked.
They are the very people who are first to leave when times get tough, as LA and SF are beginning to see.
But who doesn’t leave? Look at West Hollywood for the answer, a city where a majority of residents are renters, a city where most residents are more than 55 year old who even before the pandemic were struggling to age in place.
Proposition 21 was not written to specifically address the emerging economic and housing challenges of the pandemic, but the timing is kismet. It is needed now more than ever.
More than 40 percent of homeless people are Black families. More than 40 percent of homeless youth in Los Angeles are LGBTQ.
Cities like Los Angeles are on the front lines of a man-made disaster of greed and the pandemic has pulled the rug out from under the illusion that ever higher price points and valuations are sustainable. Our cities require flexible policies that control inflation and allow for management that can avert social upheaval.
This does not prohibit investment.
It makes Los Angeles and California more sustainable and more likely to bounce back from an economic crisis that will get worse before it can get better. In the meantime, people first must be the heart of every policy where people’s shelter is concerned.
Landlords deserve tax breaks, rights, and recourse. But they do not deserve primacy over people in our legal and social contract.
We firmly endorse Proposition 21.