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Housing Crisis

Rent Hikes and Evictions in LA County: A Growing Humanitarian Crisis

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Evictions in L.A. County: It’s become a humanitarian crisis, advocates say

by Jorge Macias for CalMatters

LOS ANGELES — A surprise eviction notice changed the lives of Juan Vera, his wife Maria and their three children forever. A representative of the apartment complex in Downey, where they had lived for more than 20 years, handed Maria an envelope.

Maria doesn’t understand English, so Camila, her 14-year-old daughter, read it to her.

“Did you see what they gave us?” she asked. “And now, what are we going to do? Where are we going to go?”On that day in August, Maria’s husband Juan was working at his job as a parking lot attendant. Upon arriving home and hearing the news, he said, he turned pale. He had 60 days to leave their one-bedroom home for five people.  

Juan Vera said that his blood pressure rose, and his face and right leg became numb.  Juan ended up in the hospital for nine days. He had suffered a stroke. After he was discharged from the hospital, he was referred for further studies at LA County-USC General Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the brain, almost five centimeters long. He will have surgery to remove it, and then undergo chemotherapy. 

“God willing, everything will be fine. I have faith that I will be cured,” he said, while sitting in an armchair in the small hall of his home. “I want to survive, for my wife and my children.” 

The Vera family is one of several dozen tenants who recently received eviction notices in the Eden Roc apartment complex, located at 10237 Western Ave. 

Ruby Baatar, director of property management at Winstar Properties Inc., the company in charge of the Eden Roc apartments, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Tenant advocates say that evictions and rent hikes have increased statewide, apparently in an effort by landlords to skirt a new state law. No data, however, is available to confirm that.

The Veras’ eviction notice arrived on Aug. 27, just 15 days before the California Legislature passed the rent hike bill AB1482. Beginning Jan. 1, the new state law will limit rent increases to 5% each year plus inflation, up to a maximum of 10% per year, and prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without “just cause.”

Many cities, including Los Angeles, have adopted emergency ordinances in an effort to prevent increased evictions in the interim.  Downey is not one of them. In November, Downey City Council members Claudia Frometa, Alex Saab, and Blanca Pacheco voted against an anti-eviction measure. The only vote in favor came from Council Member Sean Ashton. (Mayor Rick Rodriguez did not vote because he is a Downey real estate owner.)  

Pacheco, an attorney, was asked what she will do to protect her constituents in Downey. 

“My heart is with the families of Eden Roc,” she replied in an email. “My recommendation for tenants who are facing an eviction is to seek legal advice.” 

The empty apartments in Downey where tenants were evicted are now for rent. Photo by Jorge Macias

Pacheco said there are several law firms that represent tenants either free of charge or for a nominal fee, and that “there are currently laws that protect tenants and a lawyer is better equipped to provide legal assistance. In addition, the city of Downey has conducted numerous workshops about resources for tenants.” 

 “We organize and fight”

Although the Veras’ October eviction date has passed, the family continues to pay their monthly rent.Of the 110 apartments in the property, at least 45 are empty; those tenants already left. Some were offered between $3,000-$11,000 to leave. Another 40, including the Vera family, decided to stay and fight because they have no alternative for affordable housing.   

“It’s very complicated to live like this,” said Maria Vera. “The money is not enough and the rent has increased a lot.” 

Two decades ago, she said they paid $450 per month for their one-bedroom apartment. Earlier this year, they were paying $840. Now the new owners increased the rent to $1,167.50 per month.  

Evictions during the holiday season are disturbing for Catherine Álvarez, a Colombian woman who is married with two children and lives in the apartment complex at Eden Roc. 

“They increased the rent for my two-bedroom apartment by $360.  Now I pay $1,550,” she said. “But we organize and fight, and we are still here.” 

Alvarez, who is the leader of the tenant association of Eden Roc Apartments, said she received has several death threats and intimidating calls since she started organizing the renters to defend themselves. 

In solidarity with her neighbors, Alvarez has requested help for the Vera family and has set up an account with GoFundMe

Catherine Alvarez, who has organized tenants at Eden Roc to defend themselves, said she has received threatening calls. Photo by Jorge Macias.

René Christian Moya, director of an advocacy group called Housing Is a Human Right, said that the evictions in Los Angeles represent “a humanitarian crisis” that is affecting many families of all races, although its impact is stronger among Latinos and African Americans. “

“There is a social housing crisis in Los Angeles and other cities. It is also a crisis of injustice,” said Moya. “The problem is that the law favors property owners when they evict tenants, and we don’t have the financial resources to fight them.” 

At least 2.4 million of 4 million residents of Los Ángeles are renters and that they allocate an average of 52% of their income for paying rent, Moya said.

Regulations “increase our housing problems”

Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Apartments Association (AAGLA), a group that represents rental property owners.When asked whether these eviction notices throughout California constitute a “humanitarian crisis,” Yukelson answered: “We have been experiencing an affordability crisis in Los Ángeles and Southern California, but there has been no evidence of mass evictions.”

“The affordability crisis is due, in large part, to housing shortages,” he said. “Building here in California is expensive and takes a long time due to the process of assigning rights, to the well-organized neighborhood NIMBY [not in my backyard] groups that are opposed to the projects, the high cost of the land and the impact of the California Environmental Quality Act.” 

He added that housing regulations “simply increase our housing problems by causing the owners of rental apartments to leave the business and turn their units into condominiums or other uses.” 

He stressed that the state has the worst housing shortage nationally. “There is a reason for that. No developer wants to spend millions of dollars in capital and take great risks in a highly regulated company, and most owners want to get out instead of dealing with so much punitive regulation.” 

Yukelson said there are “much better” solutions than rent control. These solutions include providing appropriate incentives for developers to build more homes, particularly accessible ones. “The incentives would be in the form of a fast-track rights process, approval of increased density, less stringent parking requirements, reduced fees and increased tax incentives, among others,” he said. 

“We need more housing, not discouraging regulations,” he concluded. “We need to use the carrot instead of the stick to solve our housing problem.” 

“Unscrupulous and greedy” 

Every day of the year, thousands of Californians sleep on the streets with no shelter, and thousands more are one rent increase from being evicted and swelling the ranks of the homeless. 

According to data from the Public Policy Institute of California, a 2018 count revealed that about 130,000 Californians were homeless, almost a quarter of the national total. California’s homelessness rate was 33 per 10,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the country. 

 “That is unacceptable. We must do more to keep families in their homes and build more homes to address our shortage.” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco, who introduced AB1482. 

Chiu said he thinks that many of the evictions are a response to the new law.

 “The conclusion is that [property] owners are making a choice, a cruel choice, to evict their tenants,” he said. “The limits established under AB 1482 gives them enough space to continue making profits. However, they have chosen to be irresponsible, unscrupulous and greedy. But the law did not force them to be greedy. They were always greedy, and now they are showing their true colors.” 

  He acknowledged that he knew it was possible that landlords would evict people before the new law became effective.  

“We knew it was possible, but we felt that the limit set by AB 1482 was high enough so that the owners did not feel the need to participate in this predatory behavior,” he said. “This predatory behavior and shameless evictions have been going on in the dark for decades. This is exactly why we created this bill, and on Jan. 1, eight million tenants will no longer be exploited in this way.” 

Jorge Luis Macías in a journalist working for La Opinión. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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California

COVID-19 and California’s Housing Crisis: Issues to Watch

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A hand-sanitizing station at a homeless encampment near Oakland city hall. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters View Comments

by Matt Levin for CalMatters

CALIFORNIA — As the pandemic forces millions of Californians to adjust to a new reality, the words “housing crisis” provoke previously unthinkable questions: How to shelter in place without a home?

How to self-isolate in an overcrowded apartment? Less than two weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom and California lawmakers were in the throes of tackling the twin issues voters considered the state’s most urgent concerns: the more than 150,000 Californians without a home and the state’s sky-high housing costs.

Legislators were introducing controversial bills to make it easier for developers to build more housing, hoping to ease the crippling shortage economists say have made rents and home prices among the most expensive in the country.

Newsom and local governments were about to square off over how to spend $1 billion in proposed help for the unhoused.

That feels like eons ago. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces millions of Californians to adjust to a new reality, the state’s “housing crisis” already means something different, provoking previously unthinkable questions: 

How do you shelter in place without a home? How do you self-isolate in an overcrowded apartment? How far would a $1,000 stimulus check from the federal government go toward my rent or mortgage payment? 

Here are five rapidly evolving housing issues to watch in the next few weeks, months and, yes, years. 

Issue 1: The state’s housing crisis makes it harder to respond to COVID-19

First, there’s the obvious: how to protect the more than 150,000 homeless Californians from contracting and spreading the virus. 

It’s worth reiterating here that the counts you’re hearing from state officials — 108,000 people sleeping outdoors, 43,000 in shelters — are major underestimates. Not only are those numbers more than a year old, but counting the homeless is an inherently unscientific and imprecise snapshot in time. That means more emergency housing units, money and supplies will be needed than what the official stats might indicate.  

It’s also worth reiterating that other states don’t have to worry as much about this vulnerable population as California, which has the highest number of homeless residents in the country and by far the most living outdoors. Many of those homeless are seniors who have chronic health conditions and are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. 

But there are other dimensions of the housing crisis that are making it tougher for public health authorities here to manage the pandemic. Mostly because it’s so expensive to live here, California is the worst state in the country when it comes to overcrowded housing. 

That presents complications for millions of Californians instructed to stay indoors, especially if a household member is showing symptoms of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that someone who is symptomatic should self-isolate in a “sick room” with a separate bathroom. That may not be an option. 

While the virus presents the most pressing public health risk, researchers are also concerned about the long-term physical and health effects of overcrowding if schools and workplaces remain closed for extended periods. 

“On a daily basis, people are experiencing the crowdedness of their homes for longer periods of time throughout the day,’ said Claudia Solari, who researches housing overcrowding at the Urban Institute. “That kind of longer exposure could be a problem.” 

Solari’s research finds overcrowding can be linked to physical and behavioral problems in children. 

Issue 2: Housing the unhoused amid a pandemic takes an extraordinary — and extraordinarily complicated — effort 

Newsom and local governments have announced unprecedented efforts to get people living outside to move indoors. 

The state released $100 million to local governments for emergency shelter housing, with more likely on the way; purchased more than 1,300 trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to isolate homeless people who are symptomatic; and offered to negotiate leases with more 950 hotels on behalf of counties to get more people off the streets. Two hotels have already been secured in Oakland, providing 393 rooms.

The city of Los Angeles, with the largest homeless population in the state, announced today it would convert 42 city recreation centers to emergency shelters to create 6,000 new beds. 

But as sweeping as many of these actions have been, including many long sought by advocates, the task ahead is daunting and raises tough questions for public health experts and providers of services for the homeless.

“Health and healthcare are impossible to do with homelessness, they’re incompatible,” said Dr. Margot Kushel, a UCSF homelessness researcher.

Kushel points to several difficult-to-manage scenarios that may play out in coming weeks: How to discharge someone from a hospital if they don’t have a home in which to self-isolate? How to immediately house people with substance-abuse disorders without risking their health (an alcoholic could die if immediately cut off from alcohol, for example)? What to do with an encampment if someone starts coughing and running a fever? 

That last question could be especially problematic. Kushel pushes back against the notion that large-scale sweeps may be necessary, arguing that dispersing an encampment would be an even larger public health risk. But she worries that contagion could be a pretext for governments to sweep people off the streets, especially for the Trump administration, which has threatened such action before. 

State models show that 60,000 people who are homeless could be infected by the virus, with up to 20% needing hospitalization. 

Issue 3: Renters and mortgage-holders need lots of help

“I think it’s a huge number,”said Carol Galante, director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley. 

Galante was a high-ranking official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2009 to 2014, as the Obama administration wrestled with the Great Recession. 

Galante said she could easily see this crisis become worse for renters and homeowners with mortgages unless bolder action is taken by the federal and state governments — especially for Californians. 

One simple example: the $1,000 stimulus check some federal lawmakers are pushing for all Americans. That could pretty much cover your rent for the average one-bedroom apartment in Phoenix or Dallas or Atlanta. It would cover less than half of what a one-bedroom costs in San Francisco. 

“I keep thinking of all the people whose incomes have just gone to zero,” said Galante. “Hairdressers, waiters, waitresses — they can’t pay their rent.” 

Newsom has received a flood of criticism from tenant-rights groups for not doing enough to prevent evictions in the wake of the pandemic. An executive order the governor issued this week simply allows local governments to impose an eviction moratorium — if they want to. In places that have imposed a moratorium, renters would have to demonstrate financial harm from the coronavirus crisis to avoid eviction. 

The Trump administration announced a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for federally backed mortgages on single-family homes. That would not apply to the vast majority of renters. 

Issue 4: Rents and home prices may dip, but that’s not necessarily good news 

Economists are saying the country is likely already in recession, and only the depth and breadth of a downturn are uncertain at this point. The worst-case scenarios — 20% unemployment, widespread layoffs over a prolonged period — are terrifying. Early indications are that jobless claims are reaching record levels already. 

In most recessions, home prices and rents decline alongside falling incomes and wages. If a COVID-19-induced downturn is brief and the economy rebounds like President Trump has predicted, rents and home prices might only dip temporarily. But the possibility of a prolonged drop in housing costs is real. 

Some might see a paradoxical benefit for Californians. Wasn’t the root of the “housing crisis” the fact that rents were too damn high? If housing prices drop, won’t more people be able to buy a house?  

Not really. 

A rapid decline in rents and home values might be beneficial to Californians who can keep steady incomes and stable jobs. But for lower-income earners, especially in the service sector, rents will not drop as fast as their incomes. The state will be more unaffordable, not less. 

Issue 5: If momentum for new home building dries up, trouble lies ahead

If California does enter a prolonged recession, its political leaders may want to look back to the 2010’s for a lesson in what policymakers shouldn’t do. 

While the rest of the economy picked up steam after the Great Recession, homebuilding did not — particularly in places like the Bay Area, which saw an explosion in high-wage jobs. Meanwhile, the state only incrementally replaced funding for government-subsidized low-income housing programs it had slashed during the downturn. 

The result? The housing crisis we were living in before COVID-19 hit: sky-high rents, declining homeownership, widespread gentrification and displacement and rising homelessness. 

Galante, the former HUD official, fears that policymakers may make the same mistakes, just as things like affordable housing funding and zoning reform were finally at the top of the agenda. 

“I think we need to be preparing and thinking about that recovery today, and part of that means doing the hard things,” she said. 

Those hard things? Spending more on low-income housing even if state coffers start to bleed, and reducing the regulations developers face when trying to build. 

Matt Levin is the data and housing writer for CALmatters. His work entails distilling complex policy topics into easily digestible charts.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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Affordable Housing

Senior Tenant Sues Santa Monica Landlord to Stay in Her Home

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photo by Benjamin Massello

SANTA MONICA (Santa Monica Daily Press)– A 72-year-old woman with disabilities who has lived in the same Santa Monica studio for 38 years has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against her landlords.

In the suit filed Monday, St. James v. Bills, tenant Zandra St. James charges that her landlord violated state law by refusing to accept her housing choice voucher to offset her monthly rent. As a result, St. James faces eviction.

St. James’ apartment is rent-controlled, but with annual incremental increases. The rent has risen to the point that it now demands more than 90 percent of her monthly Social Security disability check.

She was awarded a housing choice voucher in 2019 and immediately sought to use the subsidy to help pay her […]

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Affordable Housing

CA Lawmakers Say Limiting Development Fees Combats Housing Crisis

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Photo by Sacha T'Sas

SACRAMENTO (AP) — In their latest bid to combat California’s affordable housing crisis, state lawmakers on Monday announced a package of bills to limit development fees that can add tens of thousands of dollars to the price of a new home.

However, local governments depend heavily on the fees, which typically are used to pay for schools, roads and parks. Lawmakers said they were discussing those needs but have not yet decided how the fees might be replaced.

The fees are “vital to local government’s ability to pay for the infrastructure that residents living in new developments need,” Chris Lee, legislative representative for the California State Association of Counties said in a statement. He said counties are glad to […]

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