In a symbolic move meant to spotlight the steep rents and shabby conditions facing renters across the city, housing activists and a city councilman declared Wednesday to be "Renters' Day" in Los Angeles.
"We are at a moment of crisis," said Councilman Gil Cedillo, who is asking the council to approve a resolution marking the day. "We are in jeopardy of losing an incredible amount, an extraordinary amount, of housing stock for the poor. But not just for the poor, for the entirety of the city."
Scores of people from more than a dozen community groups crowded the City Hall steps Wednesday to support the declaration, many bearing signs that read, "I AM A RENTER." Drumming and chants of "Si se puede!" arose between speeches testifying to the challenges facing local renters.
Affordability is a major issue: In Los Angeles, 62% of renter households spend more than 30% of their income on rent, compared to 53% in New York and 48% in San Francisco, according to Census Bureau figures recently shared by the city housing department. As the housing market has rebounded, evictions from rent-controlled units -- allowed under the state Ellis Act -- are on the rise.
Cedillo's resolution, which the council has not yet voted to approve, is a symbolic gesture to recognize the importance of renters. No new programs or policies are tied to the announcement. But activists argued that recognizing the needs of renters was a first step toward more help for them citywide.
"We are going to celebrate Renters' Day LA, and [Thursday] we are going to begin holding our government accountable to making sure every person in the city of Los Angeles ... and all of the children of Los Angeles have a home to live in, a home that is safe, a home that is healthy, and a home that is affordable," Thelmy Perez of the Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective told the cheering crowd.
Across the region, the rental crunch is severe for Los Angeles' poor: A recent report by the California Housing Partnership Corp. found that Los Angeles County has 376,000 more "extremely low-income" households — earning less than $25,000 a year for a family of four — than apartments they can afford.
The side effects are felt in Los Angeles neighborhoods: The L.A. area is an epicenter for crowded housing, a Los Angeles Times analysis of Census Bureau data found this year. The shortage of affordable units also pushes tenants into unsafe conditions, such as improperly converted offices and garages.
Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, said that to truly help renters, the city needs a comprehensive policy that preserves and produces affordable housing.
The City Council could start by reducing the maximum percentage that rents can jump annually under rent control, he added. Gross also wants the city to pursue incentives for developers to create condos on vacant or commercial property, instead of demolishing existing affordable housing.
"A lot of the focus has been on producing more affordable housing. But if we don't protect our existing affordable housing stock, we may take one step forward but three steps back," Gross said.