Los Angeles, CA – Residents of rent-controlled properties whose rent was scheduled to increase July 1, should get at least a four-month reprieve, a Los Angeles City Council committee recommended today.
“It’s a very contentious issue and I think that the apartment owners-God bless ’em-need some form of an increase (but) their tenants are in distress,” said Councilman Herb Wesson, chairman of the Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee. “What I basically did was suggested we do a time-out for four months and try to come up with something that makes sense,” he added. “Hopefully, we can. I don’t know.”
The issue will be debated Friday by full City Council.
The city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance allows landlords to raise rent annually for rent-controlled properties in an amount equal to or less than the percentage increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index for that year. The minimum allowable rent increase–dubbed the “floor” –is three percent, even in years when the increase in the consumer price index is less than three percent.
Last month, Councilman Richard Alarcon introduced a motion asking the council to pass a new ordinance that would freeze rents at their current levels for 12 months. Recently, the committee voted 3-1 to recommend a four-month moratorium and the option of a two-month extension.
Cindy Chambers, a renter in Venice who has been jobless since being laid off in late 2008, was among several people who attended the meeting and spoke passionately against rent increases. “You can’t get blood from a turnip, and this is one of those situations where poor people are really struggling to make ends meet, pay their rent, high food prices, high gasoline prices and healthcare prices, and all we’re asking for is a moratorium,” Chambers said. “At a time when we really need to support each other to make it through this recession, there is a pounding, a hitting on (the poor), and expecting the poor to give more, when they just don’t have it,” she added.
But Yolanda Gonzales, a property owner, said the council should take steps to prevent layoffs and improve the economy, instead of blocking rent increases.
“I feel embarrassed as a Mexican naturalized (American citizen) who came in legally to this country, at the way my people behaved (in demanding the moratorium),” Gonzales said.
“I was with them in a meeting at Boyle Heights last year, where they wanted free rent, free medical, free this and free that,” she added. “You don’t realize who pays the education of these people. You’re just hurting the (tax base) for these people to get ahead. Let’s save the properties so these people can get properly educated.”
Alarcon noted that an Economic Roundtable study released by the city’s Housing Department recommended scrapping the three percent minimum on rent increases, and instead using the Consumer Price Index as the benchmark for setting rent increases.
In six of the last 15 years, according to the study, the annual increase in the CPI was less than three percent.
Alarcon said the current CPI formula rate, based on figures from both the Housing and Labor Departments, is -0.62 percent.
The five other cities that base their rent control increases on the CPI do not have a three percent floor like Los Angeles does. Those cities are San Francisco, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Berkeley and Oakland.
Alarcon’s office said there are more than 630,000 rent-controlled units in Los Angeles, a city in which more than 61 percent of residents are renters.