Nearly 80% of those who live in West Hollywood are renters. But in a city where housing prices continue to climb, a city where more than half of renters are “rent burdened” (meaning we spend 30% or more of our income on rent), a city with a well-organized opposition to building more apartment buildings, we haven’t had any one speaking up for the 80%.
The fact that Abundant Housing is hosting a meeting tonight in West Hollywood may be reason for some hope.
Abundant Housing is an all-volunteer organization that advocates for more housing in greater Los Angeles. Its website states that: “Through community organizing, online tools and media coverage, we will empower renters, young people and others burdened by high housing costs to attend hearings, submit comments and champion the construction of more places to live. An influx of new voices demanding more housing can help expand housing options for everyone.”
Abundant Housing gives its position as follows:
“1. High rents and housing prices in the Los Angeles area are driving out long-time residents, decreasing diversity, stifling growth, and preventing new people from moving to our great city.
“2. Rents are too high because of a housing shortage – there are not enough homes and apartments to meet the demand to live here.
“3. We need more subsidies to build and preserve affordable housing, more market rate housing, and better enforcement of fair housing laws to solve the shortage.
“4. Our short-term solution is to advocate for developments which will provide more housing, and our long-term solution is to advocate for legislative and zoning changes which will enable and encourage more housing to be built.”
AH’s Facebook page lists tonight’s event, which is from 7 to 9:30 p.m. as being at Loreley Restaurant, 1201 N. La Brea Ave. Among those attending is Amanda Smash Hyde, who has organized the West Hollywood Renters Alliance. That group held its first and apparently only meeting on Sept. 27, attracting a small group of about 18 people. In 2015, local activist Larry Block announced the organization of Residents for Affordable Integrated Development (RAID), but it has gone silent.
Organizing renters to speak up for their rights isn’t easy. For one thing, renters tend to move more often than do owners of houses and condos, so their commitment to effecting change in their community is weaker. For another, renters have less skin in the housing price game. Most renters currently living in West Hollywood have some protection from huge rent hikes under the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. It’s those who would like to move here to take a new job or find acceptance in a gay-friendly environment who suffer from the high rents charged by landlords when a tenant moves out of a rent-stabilized apartment.
By contrast, owners of houses and condos have a lot of skin in the game because they benefit from the shortage of housing that leads to those high rents. In the housing market, a declining tide of new construction lifts all housing costs. A recent report noted that median home prices in Los Angeles County climbed 69% in the past five years, a better return than one could expect from a mutual fund.
Home owners also have more clout because they are more likely to vote than are renters. That may explain why the West Hollywood City Council agreed to exempt condo buildings from requirements that they be retrofitted to prepare for the inevitable earthquake. (Condo owners showed up in force to demand that). Meanwhile, tonight the Council will review a report that discusses options for allowing owners of apartment buildings to pass through to their rent-stabilized tenants part of the cost of such retrofits. Whether it’s houses, condos or apartments, it’s all about giving the owners a break rather than the tenants.
Let’s hope the Abundant Housing meetup inspires West Hollywood residents to work with Amanda Hyde to create a powerful group of YIMBY’s (Yes in My Back Yard) that will show up at WeHo City Council meetings to speak up against the arcane zoning changes advocated by some Council members that clearly are designed to restrict development of new housing in WeHo. The NIMBY’s (Not in My Back Yard) have had their say. Now we need to let the 80% speak.