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.