LOS ANGELES, Calif.–One year after scuffles broke out in City Council chambers, about 80 housing advocates protested around City Hall today, urging the council to block rent hikes for rent-stabilized housing.

Members of the Los Angeles Right to Housing Collective want changes to the city law that governs how much landlords can raise rents each July.

Protesters wearing bright orange shirts and carrying signs that read “The rent is too damn high” rallied along First Street in front of City Hall this morning before marching into council chambers to give public comment.

“Housing is a human right and the city has failed in its duty to protect the human right to housing,” said Becky Dennison, an organizer with the Collective.

“It’s the one-year anniversary of (the council’s) failure to pass a rent freeze and unleashing police violence against tenants. So we’re here to say: It’s been a year, you’ve still done nothing, and we’re not scared to come in here and challenge you.”

On May 21, 2010, the council declined to vote on an ordinance that would have prevented rent increases for four months during the down economy.

Instead the council sent the ordinance back to committees for further research.

The decision prompted angry outbursts from tenant advocates, which led Councilman Dennis Zine, who was presiding over the council at the time, to call for their removal from the chamber.

Some scuffles broke out, prompting the LAPD to call for backup.

Under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, rent on rent-control properties can go up annually by an amount equal to or smaller than the percentage increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index for that year. The goal is to tie rent increases to the overall health of the economy.

However, the ordinance also has a “floor” that requires landlords to increase the rent a minimum of 3 percent and a maximum of 8 percent.

That means when the CPI is below 3 percent or in negative territory, as it was last year, landlords can still raise the rent 3 percent each year on July 1.

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who introduced the motion last year to freeze the rent hikes for a period of time, said today that it’s still worth trying to prevent hikes on July 1.

“The renters of Los Angeles are still suffering in a bad economy.

They’re still having to pay high rents,” Alarcon said.

Many of the demonstrators directed their anger today toward Councilman Herb Wesson, who chairs the committee that has been reviewing the Rent Stabilization Ordinance since 2010.

Andrew Westall, a staffer for Wesson, said the committee has not been ignoring the issue for the last year. He said there were problems with the broader ordinance and added that he expected it to come back before Council in the next two months.

The new ordinance will not include a rent freeze but will lower the minimum rent increase to 2 percent.

Several landlords told the council council today they oppose changes to the ordinance, asserting that the economy affects them as well.

By Richie Duchon | City News Service