Let’s talk about Rent

Before reading this article, please note that there is no agenda in this piece and the thoughts expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily representative of ScaleLA as an organization.

Los Angeles is a city of diverse thought. It’s often said that this is one of the rare cities across the globe where several people can have completely different opinions about a local issue and still technically all be right in their own unique way. Whether the topic is healthcare, immigration, or political partisanship, we are constantly antagonizing each other in order to figure out who is actually correct when it comes to the various new topic of the day. Consensus seems to be as rare as a rainy day here in town, which is why it is always comforting and shocking to see a majority of people in this town coalesce around a shared belief.

Even though we spend the days arguing with each other in person or online, there are at least 2 things every single person in Los Angeles agrees with: Traffic is terrible and rent is way too high in this city. Now the last thing you need is someone ranting about horrific traffic without a clear solution to address all of our needs. The rent crisis here in LA and in California as a whole on the other hand, is absolutely manageable.

The rent crisis isn’t solely limited to residential properties; as commercial neighborhoods are feeling the constant tug of higher rent. No one likes seeing constant business turnover in neighborhoods, and Downtown Culver City is a prime example of sharp rent increases leading to boarded-up buildings. In simply a 3 block radius in the last 2 months, Spinfish, Primal Kitchen, Hanjip, and a Subway (seriously, have you ever seen a Subway go out of business?) have all closed their doors. This constant shuffling of businesses hits the cultural core of the neighborhood at its heart. Once a hub of all entertainment production in the world, cities within LA County including Culver are struggling to define their identity in this modern era.

My roommate and I were unbelievably lucky to have stumbled upon our apartment in Palms just over 4 years ago. Before the completion of the expo line, we found a 2-bedroom apartment for under $2000 5 blocks from the Culver City Expo Line Station which at the time, served as the official West end of the transit line before the later expansion. Since then, our rent has been raised twice but due to city rent-controlled limits, our rates are still fairly manageable compared to that of our peers across the city. Unfortunately for several people across the county, there is no existing safety net for those who wish to live in their neighborhoods without the threat of absurd sudden rent increases.

So what is the solution to providing affordable rent throughout the region? Many believe that the repeal of Costa-Hawkins can provide some ease for renters across the board. This law protects a landlord’s right to raise the rent to market rate on a unit once a tenant moves out. It also prevents cities from establishing rent control—or capping rent—on units constructed after February 1995[1]. Repealing this law would in turn, allow new housing units to be built by developers while providing tenants with rights that would ensure their cost of living expenses to stay low. Thus, this would encourage developers to build rent-controlled affordable housing and allow tenants to live in newer properties without the fear of absurd rent increases.

The movement to repeal Costa-Hawkins gained enough signatures to be on the November ballot, and it may offer hope for potential renters across the state. Is this effort a permanent fix? Many within the development industry seem to offer a skeptical take when it comes to the lasting effects of the potential repeal on rent control in general. A source within the local development industry recently informed me that should a repeal of Costa-Hawkins occur, it may be held up in court over lawsuits for years, thus negating the effect of a potential ballot victory.

So where can we go from here? Let’s keep our eyes focused on this ballot initiative as the election inches closer and closer. This may have a lasting effect on the distribution and development of affordable housing for renters across the region as well as the state in general. Until then, let’s all hope our landlords keep our rent low so we can spend our money on meaningful things, like Dodger tickets and pizza.

[1] https://la.curbed.com/2018/1/12/16883276/rent-control-california-costa-hawkins-explained

David Turkell
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