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Bills would help renters, homeless

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Aryn Plax
Politics Editor

California has the highest homeless population in the nation and few restrictions exist to protect tenants from drastic rent increases.

That is what the authors of three assembly bills are attempting to change.

The three bills, nicknamed the “Keep Families Home Bill Package,” by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, or the ACCE, aim to increase protections for low income renters by restricting rent increases and requiring landlords to cite just cause for eviction.

“Most tenants are one rent increase away from being able to afford food, healthcare or even becoming homeless,” said Assembly Member David Chiu, D-San Francisco, author of one of the bills.

California has 23.55% of the national homeless population, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

According to a February 2018 report from California Department of Housing and Community Development, 30% of renters devote more than 30% of their income toward rent, and for another 30% of renters, their rent uses more than half of their income.

Renters make up 46% of the total households in California, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Chiu’s bill, Assembly Bill-1482, would prevent rent gouges by restricting the amount a landlord could raise the rent by yearly.

AB-1481, authored by Assembly Member Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without just cause.

AB-36, known as the Costa-Hawkins Reform bill, is a second effort by Assembly Member Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, after the three assembly members had attempted to repeal Costa-Hawkins in 2017.

Proposition 10, a citizen-initiated ballot measure which sought to repeal Costa-Hawkins, was voted down in November 2018.

The 1995 Costa-Hawkins law restricts rent control in two ways: it prohibits application of rent control on buildings constructed after February 1995, single-family residences and condominiums, and it also prohibits vacancy control, which is a type of rent control that restricts landlords from raising rent to new tenants.

AB-36 would weaken Costa-Hawkins by allowing rent control on single-family units and on buildings that are at least 10 years old.

Chiu said that AB-1482 and AB-36 address the issues of rent in complementary ways.

“The Costa-Hawkins reform bill that’s been proposed by Assembly Member Richard Bloom addresses the reality in rent control jurisdictions: that every year, we lose rent control stock because of how that law has been written,” Chiu said. “That law is meant to apply to the two million or so Californians in jurisdictions that support rent control. My law would apply and help the 15 million renters who do not live in jurisdictions that are subject to rent control.”

Chiu said that the ACCE, Western Center on Law and Poverty, and PICO California were the primary groups lobbying in favor of the bill package.

Lobbying against the package was the California Apartment Association, which represents landlords.

Ben Benoit, vice president of public affairs for CAA-Inland Empire, said that CAA’s membership opposes rent control on principle.

Benoit said that landlords may raise rent for a few reasons: the landlord needs to make upgrades or repairs to the building, or, as a result of property values rising, landlords face higher property taxes.

Rent increases can also occur when ownership changes hands.

Property taxes on a building could spike just by virtue of being sold from one owner to another, after years of the building’s property tax remaining low due to Proposition 13, which limited tax increases on properties to no more than 2% annually as long as the property never exchanged hands, and if the property is sold, its value is reassessed.

“My experience in most cities is when there’s a lot of complaints, that there’s a group coming to the dais, almost 99% of the time, it’s because the new owners have come in, bought a property, and is now faced with a higher property tax or they want to make improvements,” Benoit said.

Yesenia Miranda Meza, organizer for Pomona United for Stable Housing, faced such a situation last year.

The former owner of an apartment building she lived in failed to make repairs that the tenant requested, and she said that the apartments became “unlivable.”

After the apartment building switched hands, the new owner implemented a rent increase between $200 and $250.

The only protection in place for tenants was that, if a landlord were to raise rents over 10%, tenants are owed a notice 60 days in advance, and if the rent increases were less than 10%, the landlord has to notify tenants within 30 days.

After Meza and fellow tenants were mired in litigation against the landlord, Meza teamed up with PUSH member and former Pomona city councilman John Nolte to get signatures for the Pomona Housing Stabilization, Fair Rent and Homeowner Protection Ordinance.

The ordinance, which did not get the number of signatures needed to be put forward to Pomona City Council, would have required restrictions on rent increases.

For example, landlords would be prohibited from pursuing rent increases if he or she did not comply with maintenance requests from tenants.

Landlords would be limited to one rent increase per year, and would be subject to just cause requirements similar to those in Bonta’s bill.

Rent increases would be limited to a specific number per year – a measure later adapted into Chiu’s bill.

“If I move out, that landlord has the right to raise the rent again,” Meza said. “He has the right to go ahead and put it at the (consumer) index price of the surrounding area. So, it’s not like if there’s rent control and I move out, that apartment will still be at $1,150 (for example). It’s just that you give tenants the opportunity to stay there for as long as possible and possibly save some money.”

Meza went to Sacramento April 8 to lobby for the bill package on behalf of ACCE.

Though CAA opposes rent control policies, Benoit said that CAA supports the development of affordable housing, and that a number of its members are involved in the development of low-income housing.

Benoit said one of the largest barriers to development generally is high building costs and NIMBYism. NIMBY stands for “not in my backyard,” and NIMBYism is the tendency for residents of any given area to resist development or local projects within their areas.

Meza said that PUSH does not generally oppose development within Pomona, but wants to limit the effects of gentrification so as to protect low-income residents.

“Gentrification is going to happen, no matter what,” Meza said. “People are going to get pushed out, like they did in Los Angeles. For now, this is our solution to it because we need a solution now. We don’t need ‘oh, but they’re building low-income housing.’ Sure, but it’s not coming in fast enough.”

AB-1482 and AB-36 will be heard by the Assembly Committee for Housing and Community Development on April 25.

Aryn Plax can be reached at aryn.plax@laverne.edu.

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