Above, a woman covers her face with a sign during a rally outside Lexanna Apartments at 401 W. Sixth St. in downtown Long Beach on Aug. 9, 2018. Seniors, veterans and disabled residents gathered to protest a drastic rent increase.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — At least three Long Beach tenants are evicted each day, according to a Princeton University database. In turn, communities here have proposed rent control, a policy limiting the amount a property owner can charge a renter.
A recent attempt to place rent control on the November ballot failed but the organization leading the rent control movement, Housing Long Beach, is now pushing for a council-led ordinance before the next ballot opportunity in 2020.
Fierce debate will continue on whether it would truly halt the displacement of poor residents, or, as skeptics say, have the unintended side effect of evicting more of them. Here’s a look behind the arguments for and against rent control as it relates to eviction rates, and then a big picture view.
PRO: “HOW RENT CONTROL STOPS EVICTIONS”
People in favor of rent control say it helps prevent current tenants from being priced out especially as extreme rent hikes appear to become more common. Recent cases include:
- #CedarResistance: Near Downtown, tenants are on rent strike against substandard living conditions following mass 60-day notices to vacate. The owners are renovating some units to rent for nearly double.
- Walnut Avenue: In the central part of town, numerous tenants at a building were given notices for a 30 percent rent increase in July.
- Lexanna Apartments: Tenants, many of whom are seniors, veterans and disabled, received notices in June that their rent would increase by $200 to $450. The rent increase, which would begin in September, would affect over 55 units also near Downtown.
Local and state leaders have yet to enact immediate solutions, leaving residents to urge calls for rent control or temporary “rent freezes.” The County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors may approve a temporary rent cap ordinance on unincorporated areas in the upcoming weeks.
“Rents continue to spiral upward, making it necessary for the Board to take an action to protect tenants from unreasonable rent increases before the Board has had the opportunity to deliberate on and adopt permanent tenant protection policies,” they said.
CON: “HOW RENT CONTROL INCREASES EVICTIONS”
Those against rent control say tenants’ situation would actually be made worse in the long-run if such policies see the light of day. They warn of side effects such as lower profits for property owners.
Joani Weir, who leads the anti-rent control organization Better Housing for Long Beach, said many mom-and-pop landlords are losing profits due to high mortgages, housing insurance, property taxes, maintenance, repairs and other fees.
“I would do better to sell my building if this goes through,” Weir, who owns an apartment building by Downtown, said about rent control. Her organization represents Long Beach landlords’ greatly wary of rent control policies.
“Rent control is a great way to blame landlords for being greedy,” she said. When asked for totals on her profits made as a landlord — and others’ — Weir said that “some go in the red.”
THE BIG PICTURE: RENT CONTROL’S A COMPLICATED GORDIAN KNOT
Opponents also warn that rent control may discourage away developers, which may reduce the housing stock, and, therefore, increase rent prices where possible.
With help from the Ellis Act of 1985, landlords can take their apartment units off the housing market to convert them into condos or other rental market rate housing. Then there’s the Costa-Hawkins Rental Act, which allows a landlord to raise the rent to market rate after a tenant moves out. It also allows immunity against rent control for units built after 1995.
For example, a Stanford study showed that rent control, as implemented in San Francisco, incentivized owners of rent-controlled properties to evict or “buy out” tenants to convert their apartments to condos or other market rate housing.
Its results found that San Francisco’s rent control model ultimately brought more trouble than good: its housing shortage worsened, displacements increased, and newcomers were blocked from moving into the city due to higher rents. Renters who lived in the same apartments for many years, the study showed, were the only ones who benefited from rent control.
While the study isn’t favorable for proponents, some pin the blame on state laws like the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins. With such laws intact, a local rent control policy would have difficulty protecting Long Beach’s renters from displacement. California renters have taken note and have gathered enough signatures to place the Affordable Housing Act measure on the November statewide ballot, a policy that includes repealing Costa-Hawkins, for example.
“Rent control is not a cure to the problem,” it’s a “treatment,” said Josh Butler, executive director for Housing Long Beach, who recognizes the limits of his organization’s proposed policy.
While landlords say their profits might be threatened by rent control, it has been difficult to gauge the data evidence for it, especially as they pertain to mom-and-pop landlords. A landlord makes on average over $70,000 annually in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale area, according to 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. But 42 percent of landlords are also considered to be self-employed, which BLS cannot track.
Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of the Long Beach population are renters, which are highly concentrated in the Central area and Cambodia Town — the areas that see increasing cases of extreme rent hikes.
Kristen G. Cox, a long-time activist who organizes for tenant rights, said that Long Beach should follow a rent control model that gives power to tenants through “collectivizing.”
The Los Angeles Tenant Union model, she cited, has tenants go on rent strikes against large-scale property owners that raise rents by hundreds of dollars at a time.
“That’s the direction is that we’re going in right now because it doesn’t feel like anything else is really working,” she said.