How a Tenant Born and Raised in East Los Angeles Challenged Her Landlord and Helped Secure Housing Rights for 100,000 People
11:27 AM PDT on September 12, 2019
[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]ast Tuesday, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a permanent rent control ordinance to bring rent control to all unincorporated areas of L.A County after listening to over 160 people give public comment for three hours.
Lead by Supervisors Kuehl and Solis, the ordinance will cap rent increases at no more than 8 percent, protect renters in unincorporated areas from being evicted without just case and requires a landlord to provide reasonable relocation assistance for tenants evicted without fault. The landmark ruling will affect approximately 100,000 renters across L.A. County. The Board of Supervisors also unanimously approved of a 2 million dollar eviction defense and prevention fund.
“My name is Carolina Rodriguez, I was born in East L.A. and I’m here to stay,” Carolina Rodriguez addresses a large crowd of supporters outside Kenneth Hahn Hall before the Board of Supervisors meeting. Rodriguez is credited with being the first tenant to spark the movement that lead to this ordinance. Three years ago, Rodriguez was living in City Terrace when her rent jumped from $1,250 to $2,000.
“We found ourselves facing a life on the streets,” after the rent increase, Rodriguez and her family, which includes six children, were facing homelessness. Every time Rodriguez passed by an underpass, a shaded sidewalk or a park she thought about being homeless, “I wondered if it would be a good place to set up our tents,” she said during the press conference.
The rent increase threatened to split up her children, potentially breaking up her family. Rodriguez described the situation as, “a mother’s worst nightmare.” Rodriguez’s landlord was legally allowed to raise her rent because she lived in an unincorporated area of the county where there were no rent control laws at the time, “my landlord could raise my rent as much as they wanted.”
Rodriguez fought back after seeking help from the L.A. Tenants Union, “I found out I wasn’t alone.” She organized with her building and won five court cases in a short time, to keep her and her family in their City Terrace apartment. But that wasn’t enough, without rent control protections her landlord could continue to drag her into court. On May 11, 2017, Rodriguez and her supporters marched to the Board of Supervisors. Their stories struck a nerve with Solis and Kuehl who drafted a motion for rent control. “I was fighting on the behalf of my entire community,” Rodriguez says. Three years after nearly being pushed onto the streets, Rodriguez celebrated the passing of the permanent rent stabilization ordinance.
As an alternative to homelessness, some families spoke about breaking up their families, sending their kids to live with different relatives or friends to keep them housed.
During public comment, dozens of other residents, told similar stories of being hit with 60-day eviction notices, rents being jacked up as much as 150 percent or more, and as a result, families being pushed into homelessness. One family had their rent increased from $900 to $2,100. They had to use their savings to make up the difference and thought about selling their car. Another family was pushed into homelessness, living in their car and motels with six children.
As an alternative to homelessness, some families spoke about breaking up their families, sending their kids to live with different relatives or friends to keep them housed. One student was forced to live with their grandmother after their family experienced a 50 percent increase and was evicted three times in one year. As a result, they had to take two buses just to get to school. During the board meeting, Joe Nichitta, the Director of Consumer Affairs noted that women with children are the most at-risk of being evicted.
“It is because of you organizing that this even got us started,” Supervisor Kuehl said that organizers paved the way for this ordinance during opening remarks at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The increase in homelessness across the city, county, and state was also a significant contributing factor. Homelessness in the county increased 12 percent last year with homelessness citywide increasing 16 percent. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “The connection between unaffordable housing and the homeless crisis is undeniably, unmistakably clear,” speaking in favor of the ordinance. “This is a game-changer for our county and the state of California,” said Supervisor Solis, sighting recent homeless counts as a motivator to pass the law.
Tuesday’s vote essentially came down to one Supervisor, Supervisor Barger, who expressed skepticism during opening remarks but also said she was open to changing her mind after public comment.
But not everybody was in favor of the ordinance. Those in opposition of the law, largely said that the ordinance would discourage developers from building housing, which is already an expensive process according to builders, others thought that the county should wait for a pending state bill that would bring rent control to cities across California. Some thought the ordinance was too broad and should only apply to the most at-risk tenants like seniors and people below the median income level. “This ordinance puts the burden on landlords,” one person speaking out against the ordinance said on Tuesday.
The ordinance also provides landlords some protections, including the ability to pass on 50 percent of improvement costs to tenants over time to recoup costs and provisions for luxury apartment rentals. It also ensures that landlords are able to receive “a fair and reasonable return” on their property.
Tuesday’s vote essentially came down to one Supervisor, Supervisor Barger, who expressed skepticism during opening remarks but also said she was open to changing her mind after public comment. Barger suggested the ordinance was “counter-intuitive” and questioned if it targeted the people that were most at-risk. But after listening to over 160 people give public comment, most in favor of the ordinance, it seemed she had a change of heart.
When it came time to vote, the four other Supervisors quickly approved of the motion but when the vote turned to Barger, there was a long silent pause before she said “aye.” Cheers and applause broke out during after the ordinance passed during a meeting that was supposed to be silent. The ordinance will be drafted and then presented to the Board of Supervisors again for final approval in November.
Outside, tenants supporting the ordinance marched to Grand Park where they were met with sandwiches. It had been a long three-year fight to make it to this point and after nearly six hours at the Board of Supervisors meeting, the group was understandably hungry.
Rodriguez says there are still tenants that might not be aware of their rights and predatory landlords that will try and unlawfully raise rents. 'We still have to organize to help other communities that don’t have rent control. It doesn’t stop until everyone has rent control.'
On Wednesday Rodriguez told L.A. Taco, “I’m excited, I still have to celebrate on Saturday.” When asked about how she feels about the ordinance passing. Rodriguez was surprised by yesterday’s verdict, “every time I had court, my lawyer would always tell me, ‘Let’s always think like we’re going to lose,’ so that way when the victory comes, it’s more exciting.” She also admits that the fight isn’t over. Rodriguez says there are still tenants that might not be aware of their rights and predatory landlords that will try and unlawfully raise rents. “We still have to organize to help other communities that don’t have rent control. It doesn’t stop until everyone has rent control.”
This ordinance seemed to have resonated at a state level. On Wednesday, the state assembly passed a landmark bill that would bring rent control to the state of California. The bill will head to Governor Newsom’s desk for final approval. The former Mayor of San Francisco is expected to sign.
The Tenant Protection Act of 2019 will cap rent increases at 5 percent per year plus local inflation, for most tenants in cities that don’t already have rent control laws. However, it is important to note that neither the county or state bill has vacancy control protections, which would make it illegal for landlords to raise rents to market value in between tenants.
The bill mirrors the ordinance that passed at a county level on Tuesday, protecting most tenants from unjust evictions and entitling them to relocation assistance in certain cases. The bill would exempt certain properties from rent control and relocation assistance, including units built in the past 15 years. At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, The Director of Consumer Affairs, Joe Nichitta, said that if the state bill passed and county laws were more favorable to tenants, local laws would override state legislation.
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