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Lack of rent control can increase County’s homeless population

Report: ‘pushed out, priced out’

City News Service | 6/13/2019, midnight
The lack of a robust rent-control ordinance to control rising housing costs..

The lack of a robust rent-control ordinance to control rising housing costs and provide legal protections for tenants is a major factor contributing to Los Angeles County’s rising homeless population, according to a report released this week.

“This report, coupled with the Los Angeles County homeless count, makes clear that our county is in crisis,” said Pamela Agustin, an organizer with the Eastside Leadership for Equitable and Accountable Development Strategies coalition. “The status quo that has prioritized corporate landlords’ thirst for ever-higher profits over the lives of tenants isn’t working and is tearing at the very fabric of our communities.”

The report, titled “Pushed Out, Priced Out, Locked Out,” said the 12-percent increase in the county’s homeless population documented in the most recent count could be slowed significantly through the implementation of permanent renter-protection laws. A strong rent-control ordinance in the county would provide protection for more than 403,000 renters, according to the report.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in December adopted a temporary rent stabilization ordinance that limited rent increases to 3 percent a year and placed restrictions on tenant evictions. The ordinance was extended in April until the end of the year, but the group’s behind the new report say the move doesn’t go far enough.

“While thousands of families have been able to breathe a little easier because of the temporary rent freeze, to feel truly secure, they need long-term protections that only a permanent rent stabilization ordinance can bring,” Agustin said.

In addition to Eastside LEADS, other groups behind the report include the Unincorporated Tenants United coalition, the Community Economic Development Clinic at UCLA School of Law, and the nonprofit Public Counsel.

According to the report, tenant outreach and education are vital to making rent stabilization work, along with strong efforts to enforce the law. The document noted that of tenants currently facing eviction, 90 percent do not have adequate legal representation.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call, one tenant described having rent raised dramatically for her and her family, only to be ultimately evicted when the landlord decided to sell the property.

“We were unable to find affordable housing,” she said. “... It was either because the size of our family or because of the pets, and it was too expensive to move. We spent $600 just in application fees just to apply for housing.”

Eventually, she was able to find a housing solution, but said she initially had to sleep in her car or bunk with friends.

The report also called on the county to support state laws that further protect tenants and strengthen rent controls.

“In addition to an enhanced code enforcement program, the county should consider expanding programs to assist low-income landlords with building maintenance and energy efficiency improvements,” the report stated. “Such programs would help low-income landlords comply with code requirements and improve living conditions for tenants.”

The report used data from 2010-2017 and stated within that time, more than 500,000 eviction lawsuits had been filed throughout the entire county.

Representatives of the organizations said they plan to present the information and full report to each county supervisor, along with data specific to each of their districts.