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Los Angeles Wave

Wednesday March 2, 2011

Bottom Line: Few Heroes in this Production of 'Rent'

By Betty Pleasant
 

While owners of liquor stores are prominent among Councilman Bernard Parks’ campaign contributors, a study of his state-required list of campaign donors shows the well-stoked financial engine pushing his re-election Tuesday for a third term as the 8th District city councilman are landlords of all types — little ones, big ones, huge housing complexes, mobile home and trailer parks, property management corporations, apartment owners’ associations, realtors and real estate PACs — businesses that make their money off people who rent.

In addition to more individual landlords, Realtors, property management companies and mobile home parks than one can count, Parks has received contributions from such groups as the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), the Apartment Assn. CA Southern Cities/IPPAC, the California Apartment Assn., the Central City Assn. PAC, the Mobile Home Park Owners Assn., the mammoth Park La Brea Apartments and from something called Property Owners Adjusting Services in Inglewood.

Why is Parks getting so much love from these people? “Because he is anti-renter and pro-landlord,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, who has fought battles to keep low-to-middle income residents in their rental housing throughout the city.

“As the landlords’ associations’ go-to-guy on the City Council, Bernard Parks has embraced and advocated numerous anti-rent control and anti-tenants’ rights proposals over the years,” Gross said. “Parks has opposed a a freeze on rent increases, opposed increasing tenant relocation assistance and a condominium conversion moratorium, while at the same time supporting measures to allow landlords to pass on costs of sewer service fees, trash pick-up and water rate charges, which all would result in additional rent increases. Councilmember Parks has demonstrated he is not a friend of renters in Los Angeles.”

Back when Parks was running for mayor in 2005, he called for changes in the city’s rent control system, saying the program needs to reflect higher costs facing apartment owners. In a Daily News story on Parks’ rent control concerns, he said: “It’s time for us to realize that we can’t punish people who own property. They are not all rich and shouldn’t be asked to subsidize our housing problems. … I do think we need to look at modifying [rent control] to allow the pass through of some costs, such as recent increases in water rates and sewer service charges.”

After which, he was immediately endorsed for Los Angeles mayor by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the AAGLA and the Beverly Hills Apartment Assn.

Also while running for mayor, Parks wrote an op-ed piece in the April 9, 2007 Los Angeles Times in which he opposed any restrictions on condominium conversions. He expressed his belief that it is sufficient for the city to require condo-converting landlords to give tenants moving expenses — even though the vacancy rate is nil and there’s no place for renters to move. “It’s like giving people food stamps when the grocery stores are empty,” Gross said.

Parks argued in his op-ed piece “that the market’s natural ability to adjust itself to meet the needs of supply and demand cannot be overlooked. When the supply of condominiums and market-rate rentals rises, then the demand is satisfied, which results in lower prices.” (He sounds like one of Charles Dickens’ characters.)

But later, Parks became dissatisfied with that approach and he and Councilman Dennis Zine authored a motion in 2007 to reduce the relocation assistance landlords are required to pay tenants when they are being evicted for no fault of their own — such as for the conversion of units into condominiums, a practice of landlords in 2005-06 that resulted in the loss of 10,000 rent-controlled apartments in the city. Parks, Zine and the landlords thought the relocation fees they were paying displaced tenants were too high. But after conducting a hearing on the matter, the City Council decided the fees were too low, and raised them. Then Parks and Zine fought to have the fees put back where they were before the pair got the bright idea to start messing with them in the first place.

Having lost his mayoral bid, Parks took his “I wanna change rent control” agenda to the City Council where he pushed to have a study conducted on the effects of the 1978-enacted Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which covers some 600,000 apartment units in the city. To placate Parks, the council spent a humongous amount of money (some say as much as $1 million, but I’m not sure) to hire the Economic Roundtable, a consulting firm, to conduct a comprehensive economic study of the Rent Stabilization Ordinance and the local housing market. The firm put together a research team that included sociologists, lawyers, economists, urban planners and tenants’ rights advocates, including Larry Gross. The study, released in 2009, reported exactly what Parks did not want to hear: It found that while the rent control measure covered 66 percent of Los Angeles’ inventory of rental units, “the majority of renters are rent-burdened, paying over 30 percent of their income for rent, and roughly a third are severely rent-burdened, paying half or more of their income for rent.”

A melee broke out on May 22, 2010 in the City Council chambers when the council was debating the merits of Councilman Richard Alarcon’s motion to implement a one-year freeze on rent increases for rent-controlled apartments. The freeze was sought to enable the council time to complete discussions regarding potential changes in the Rent Stabilization Ordinance without saddling renters with a new round of 3 percent rent increases scheduled to take effect on July 1. Alarcon’s motion was watered down to a four-month moratorium and, thanks to Parks, it ended up being “sent to committee” where it sat until the rents went up. The chambers were packed with renters who sat around for five hours before the council addressed the issue and when it became clear that their rents were going up on July 1, they became unruly, cops were called and three of them were arrested.

The AAGLA, the Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Assn., all Parks’ campaign contributors, hailed the action as a great success and praised their hero, Parks, for having helped killed the freeze by sending it back to committee and raising people’s rents.

In mid-December, Parks proposed exempting apartment owners of rent-controlled buildings from paying city business taxes, or at least significantly reducing those taxes. Parks is reported in the media as saying “rent control imposes limits on landlords that result in lower revenue.” What?!

In his Times op-ed piece, Parks writes: “The 8th District, which I represent, is actually saturated with rent-controlled housing and ‘affordable’ apartments. It has long been and continues to be a location of choice for students and senior housing.” Then he adds: “The 8th District has one of the lowest rates of homeownership in the city. The City Council should be adopting policies that promote homeownership and support property ownership.” What?!


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