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Los Angeles Daily News

Monday March 28, 2016

Evictions Gain New Attention At LA City Hall As Tenants Get 'Priced Out'

By Dakota Smith
 

Ken Keil and his wife moved to Camarillo Avenue six years ago, drawn to North Hollywood's walkable streets and a nearby park.

But slowly they watched as the neighborhood's small apartment buildings were flattened to make way for bigger housing developments. Then, an eviction notice arrived at their door. Property owners plan to tear down their Spanish-style duplex to put up new housing, Keil said. The Keils have to be out by September.

Finding a similar rent deal — the Keils pay $1,650 a month for a rent-controlled two-bedroom — is impossible. The family is now considering moving to Santa Clarita.

"We're priced out," said Keil, 36. "It's weird watching your neighborhood change."

Such evictions are a blow to the city's rent-controlled housing stock, say tenants' rights advocates.

The Ellis Act, a state law, allows rent-controlled units to be taken off the market. In many cases, those units are demolished and replaced with new condominium or rental buildings, advocates say.

Data compiled by the city's housing department show that rent-controlled units are being removed in Los Angeles at an increased pace. A total of 2,287 units were "Ellised" over the last two years, a sixfold increase over 2010-2011.

As Los Angeles City Hall considers asking taxpayers to fund new affordable housing, Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, says the city should also be protecting rent-controlled units.

"If we're losing this number of affordable units at this rate, we'll never address our housing crisis," Gross said. "We can't build our way out of this."

Passed in 1985, the Ellis Act gives property owners the right to exit the rental market, with caveats. Owners must buy out tenants, which in Los Angeles means paying anywhere from about $7,000-$19,000 per tenant, depending on the tenant's age, health, and how long the tenant has lived there.

If the units are torn down and put back on the market as new rentals within five years, the owners can set the new rent. The units must be kept as rent-controlled or 20 percent of the building must be set aside as affordable housing.

About 80 percent of Los Angeles' rental stock, or about 623,000 units, is rent-controlled.

City data show Ellis Act applications peaked in 2005 amid the real estate boom: A total of 5,425 units were filed to be removed from the market. Filings dropped significantly after the market crashed but climbed again in 2013.

In 2015, property owners sought to move 1,073 rent-controlled units from the market. Venice and West Los Angeles remain popular spots for Ellis Act applications, while the 90006 ZIP code, which includes the Koreatown and Pico-Union neighborhoods, saw the most applications last year, according to city data.

A total of 2,247 rent-controlled units were removed from the market from 2010 to 2014, according to the city's Housing Department. At the same time, 4,634 units were constructed or proposed for construction.

Gross said looking at the two numbers is comparing "apples to oranges" because in the case of new rental buildings, rents are higher than the original ones.

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, whose Westside district is a popular spot for development, urged his colleagues last fall to re-examine the Ellis Act. A report from the city's Housing Department outlining Ellis Act trends is expected in the next few months.

"The Ellis Act aimed to enhance tenant protections when units are removed from the marketplace by landlords with a legitimate need or desire to do," Koretz wrote in a letter to the city's housing committee, "not to clear the way for rampant speculation."

Jim Clarke, a consultant with the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, said the Ellis Act might allow the removal of some units, but the upside is that developers can erect denser projects, which brings more supply to the market and helps ease the city's housing crunch.

"Any restrictions the council wants to put on the Ellis Act could deter the building of more units," Clarke said. "And we would oppose that."

Los Angeles isn't alone in re-examining the Ellis Act. Following an upswing in evictions in Oakland, the Oakland City Council recently moved to increase the amount of money landlords must pay to evicted tenants.

A UCLA study released in 2014 found that Los Angeles is the most unaffordable rental market in the country. The rising cost of housing is leading to increased homelessness, advocates contend.

Amid the housing crunch, City Hall officials may ask voters to approve a tax to help build units for the homeless.

Los Angeles resident Joshua Gray, 37, received a notice last September to vacate his rent-controlled three-bedroom bungalow in Chinatown.

Tenants in the neighboring apartment complex also got notices, and it's believed a large development project will rise on the site.

The city's high rents now have the community talking about where to move.

"Where are people going to go?" Gray said. "Are they going to leave Los Angeles?"


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