Opinion: Homelessness, Housing, Renter’s Rights — Issues WeHo Must Address

At 88 years of age, Dorle Rispoli has called her Romaine Street apartment in West Hollywood home for more than 40 years, longer than half the residents in our community have been alive. Dorle is a terminally ill cancer patient, and she is being evicted. The Empire Group, which owns the building she lives in, is using the Ellis Act to kick a dying woman out of her home, despite her caretaker’s insistence that she is too sick to be moved.

Dorle’s story is just one among many in West Hollywood. Across our small, vibrant city we see similar stories play out every day as young people, disabled people and seniors on fixed incomes are forced out of their homes and out of West Hollywood, or worse: onto the streets.

Despite ongoing efforts to offset the cost of housing and ensure the ability of seniors to age-in-place, my campaign hears daily from voters and residents who are one unexpected expense away from being unable to cover rising rents.

In a city where LGBTQ+ representation and equality are so foundational, this is unconscionable. LGBTQ+ youth and seniors are disproportionately impacted by the lack of affordable housing and face significantly higher risks if they become homeless. Seniors below the age of 65 are particularly vulnerable, unable to qualify for Medicare and faced with significant discrimination in assisted living facilities. Homeless LGBTQ+ youth are targets for sexual abuse, human trafficking, and drug peddlers.

These aren’t unsolvable problems. Cities around the country can and have developed solutions to not just get people off the streets, but to move beyond treating the symptoms and address the root cause: the lack of affordable housing.

While big money developers demolish iconic West Hollywood landmarks to build market-rate luxury condominiums and hotels, West Hollywood residents suffer. These new condominiums aren’t going to West Hollywood residents. They’re going to wealthy new transplants from outside the city, and in many cases they sit empty while speculators let the vacant properties accumulate value.

The solution, then, seems straightforward. Everyone who’s taken a Econ 101 class jumps to tell you that the law of supply and demand dictates increasing supply decreases price. Simple enough. But how and what we build matters. Reforming citywide zoning policy to up-zone residential parcels near transit stops like the unfinished Crenshaw Line Extension will allow West Hollywood to work with public and private partners to develop housing that the people who live and work here can actually afford.

This is what city planners call “transit-oriented development,” and there is a growing consensus among planners, environmentalists and housing experts that this is the only viable solution to ending our housing crisis while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions to prevent climate disaster. As an added bonus, transit-oriented development has the benefit of reducing traffic! By making mass transit, bikes and other transit methods more accessible, affordable, and effective for West Hollywood residents, we’ll take more cars off the streets.

Homelessness, housing and renter’s rights are intersectional issues, and you can’t truly address one without addressing all of them. As a city within a city, we’ll need to work hard to hold regional partners like the City of Los Angeles accountable, and to ensure we’re receiving our fair share of Measure H funds from the County.

I’m proud to say that my campaign isn’t accepting a single penny from big developers, because I believe public servants must be accountable to the public, not powerful special interests with deep pockets. By electing leaders who put residents before big hotel developers, we can finally start to tip the scales. My name is Sepi Shyne, and I’m running for West Hollywood City Council in the March 5th election. Learn more about my people-powered campaign at www.sepishyne.com.

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Sepi Shyne
About Sepi Shyne
Shyne was appointed by Councilmember John Heilman in July to the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board. Her LinkedIn profile identifies her as the founder of Soulillume, which “offers energy healing for humans and pets, reiki and massage combo sessions, spiritual guidance, energy healing classes, energy healing products and inspirational e-books and seminars.” Shyne also practices business and trademark law and is former co-president of the LGBT Bar Association of Los Angeles. She has been very much involved with the Los Angeles Chapter of the Human Rights Campaign.

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10 Comments
  1. Sepi, at what point do property owners no longer have rights? It seems as if the particular property owner that is Ellising out their property, as they are legally able to do under STATE law, has gone above and beyond what is required in the case of Dorle Rispoli–and I am in no way diminishing the fact that a long time tenant with significant health issues now needs to move. But property owners do have rights. I think that it is a fundamental human right, across the globe, to be entitled to housing–period. But unless you are proposing that all housing becomes a socialized right/benefit, which would mean that there is no private ownership of rental housing, while private landlords can be part of the solution, they are not THE solution. The City of West Hollywood’s largest number of small business owners are our landlords, the mom & pop/mom & mom/pop and pop owners (like me) who have their largest single investment in rental property. Our Rent Stabilization ordinances to a great job of protecting our residents from illegal evictions (or even, really, requiring a tenant to move out at the end of their lease “just because”), basing rent increases/annual adjustments on CPI and maintaining habitability standards and housing services that were in place at the beginning of their tenancies. But at what point do you propose that property owners can no longer go out of the rental business? At what point would you have the City dictate to a property owner that this major investment they’ve made, it must remain as it is…..in perpetuity….no changes allowed in the usage of that piece of real estate? Again, I think private landlords can be part of the solution…but maybe we offer a carrot rather than just a stick.
    Sepi, while I admire you for running for Council….and I think you have potential…just not yet. I you’ve been a commissioner for a very short amount of time & not that I attend every City Council or every commission meeting, but I don’t recall having seen you before you started your campaign. I’ll say to you (as I would say to Brendan Hood, Shawn Mooney and Marquita Thomas)–stay involved. Keep serving on your commission. Attend as many other commission and board meetings as you can, to learn and grow.

  2. I have to pleasantly disagree with my friend Sepi- as she advocates for more development to solve the ‘housing crisis’, more buildings will be torn down and more senior citizens like wonderful Dorie Rispoie will be displaced. And if the current city council gave bonuses to developers as described here to build taller units many would complain the council was in the pockets of developers. I do not think we want West Hollywood to look like Wilshire Blvd.. and if it was like Wilshire Blvd then it would be all expensive condos. Economics 101 is that new buildings built today cost more and unless there is government subsidies these new units will be out of reach for all the people that the author is advocating. Because cities don’t build affordable housing units, developer do.. our city mandates 20% to affordable housing and this city West Hollywood has more affordable housing units per capita than any of our neighboring communities. More building, more people, means more traffic and more congestion. In Real Estate 101 they teach that commercial spaces are much more valuable when surrounded by residential units. So this is also a recipe to squeeze out small business and bring in all the chains stores who have AAA ratings and are the only ones that can be approved in any new development. Economics 201 teaches that commercial mortgage securities are bundled into pools of ratings and are then sold. It is almost impossible for a small business to sign a lease in any new commercial building unless you have millions of dollars. Personally what I love about West Hollywood is its neighborhood vibe and the mix of people and just look around at whats happening. Hustler goes out for the Arts building. Aahs going out for that huge development planned. Soon all of us will have to travel out of the city when Pavillions decides to monetize their land instead of selling groceries. And thats why we have a General Plan to set boundaries on the development to keep our growth maintained as best as possible evenly across the city boundaries. There are exceptions, like the Arts Club and that why Im voting Yes on Measure B. But imagine if the whole city got that kind of zoning? It wound not make for a better city.. more people kicked out of their homes just like the lady described above. It doesnt make sense. You cant stand up for the senior being Ellised and then advocate for more seniors being Ellised.

  3. You go, Sepi. I knew I was right when I was one of the first to endorse your candidacy. You are strong and clear on the cruelty inherent in the current housing situation. When you are on the council you can build a movement in the city that is not beholden to developers. Oh, how I wish I could be there to work by your side.

  4. Renter’s right was the key reason that Tom Hayden’s Coalition for Economic Survival got involved in the drive for cityhood. When I spoke with him at the ten year celebration of the city’s founding, he said he was pleased with most of the conditions he had seen then. Greed, our national plague, had yet to infect housing to any great degree by 1994. Today, Hayden would be appalled at what we all know is that West Hollywood, our “urban village”, has become a magnet for short-sighted developer intent upon forcing change without foresight.

  5. This candidates naïveté verges on recklessness.

    It’s baffling that she thinks hyper density and re-zoning of residential neighborhoods would lead to less traffic and more affordability. On the contrary, it’s that type of nonsensical perspective that leads to more traffic, more congestion, more Ubers and higher rents. You only need to look at every congested high density city in America to prove that point.

    West Hollywood, a two square mile city, with it’s Inclusionary Housing Program, Community Housing Corporation and the strongest rent control ordinance in the County has established itself as an excellent model for a vibrant, diverse and livable community……in a free country.

    This candidate’s mis-guided extremism, lack of community experience and novice understanding of how cities work would be a detriment to all things that still make West Hollywood a great place to live.

    Do we need to continue being vigilant about the needs of our residents, whether they be homeowners or renters? Yes…..But let’s move forward, not backward.

      1. Ha…..Doesn’t sound like it. Politicizing housing issues by activists never leads to good housing policy. You’ll catch on eventually.

    1. The NIMBY point-of-view. Increased density is the forward arch to solving the affordable housing. Its a West Hollywood foundational value and Sepi Shyne is the one who is straight on this and many other issues. The traffic has will continue to be; just a fact. Low growth in housing or no growth will no help with traffic in West Hollywood and certainly not on affordable housing. My vote is on Sepi.

      1. You make it sound like “Not In My Back Yard” is a bad thing. NIMBYs care about their community and have helped make this city livable and attractive to current and future residents.

        Yes, this NIMBY says NO to up-zoning, NO to disguised, thinly veiled “developer speak”, NO to MORE big luxury apt buildings and NO to lack of critical thinking.

        #VoteIncumbents

        1. You listed all the reasons why with your NO position why a NIMBYism is a regressive position that comes from one community at the expense to the entire city.

          If West Hollywood is to maintain and grow along with the comprehensive human services West Hollywood is recognized for; We must allow organically, the growth process to occur.

          I do agree with your assessment that NIMBYs vision for our progressive city have a “lack of critical thinking.”

          #Vote

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