Pasadena Tenants Union Launched Initiative Because City Councilmembers 'Biased' Against Rent Control

Renters’ Group takes rent control fight to direct to Pasadena voters for passage

Published : Tuesday, December 5, 2017 | 6:34 AM

Michelle White, seen here making a public statement before a City committee

Michelle White, seen here making a public statement before a City committee, is one of three signers of the Pasadena Tenants Union notice of intent to circulate a petition in favor of rent control in Pasadena.

Editor’s Note: During Pasadena Now’s interview with Councilmember Victor Gordo, the Councilmember acknowledged and stated that he did own property in Pasadena as well as in the Rent Control areas of Los Angles.  However because he was accused of being biased against rent control Pasadena Now only published his remarks about currently owning property in a rent control area.

The Pasadena Tenants Union, the year-old renters rights advocacy group which launched a rent control initiative petition drive November 15, chose to fight for a city-wide Charter Amendment vote on the measure by residents instead of pushing for City Council creation of a City ordinance because they believe Councilmembers are biased against rent control and either favor development and landlords or are landlords themselves.

“The Pasadena Tenants Union decided that it was necessary to go after a ballot initiative rather than rely upon the ‘normal workings,’” said Michelle White, Pasadena Tenants Union member, at a forum conducted by the Pasadena Progressive Discussion Group last Friday, “because we’re very familiar with the history of Pasadena and how [the City Councilmembers] relate to tenant issues and affordable housing.”

According to White, no City Councilmembers have as yet taken a stand in favor of rent control. She said at least three Councilmembers are themselves landlords, naming Vice Mayor John Kennedy and Councilmembers Victor Gordo and Tyron Hampton.

“They’re either against [rent control] like my Councilmember, Victor Gordo, or they’re saying ‘I’m not going to take a position,’” said White. “So we have no support in City Council for protections, meaningful protections for the preservation of people who live here, where we’ve got problems in terms of preserving the affordable housing that we have.”

Both Councilmembers John Kennedy and Victor Gordo — two of the three identified landlords siiting on the Council, along with Tyron Hampton— took issue with the notion that they are biased “against” rent control.

“There are various opinions about the efficacy of rent control,” Kennedy responded, “and certainly, it’s something that’s worthy of a discussion.”

Gordo said that he and his wife are “fortunate enough to own property in the city of Los Angeles, and that property is subject to rent control. I have no bias for or against rent control and I will do what’s in the city’s best interest.”

The new initiative measure is proposed as City Charter amendment, which needs to be voted on by citizens and not the City Council, and would only cover multi-unit apartments, said White.

“So if you’re just renting out one unit,” White explained, then that’s not the kind of thing that would be covered under the proposed amendment. But it would put a limit on the amount of rent that could be charged for other units, she said.

The 4.5% cap on rents would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, added White.

“This gives landlords a lot of flexibility,” she continued, “ and the rent control board would be in place to make sure that the rents were charged consistent with the regulations. The rents would be rolled back or set as of the time that we filed on the 15th of [November], and there would be a rent control board that would be responsible for setting each increase on an annual basis. Those persons would be appointed by the City Council, but therefter would operate pretty independently of the City Council.”

Should a landlord be unable to maintain or make major improvements such as roof repairs based on the amount of rent they are collecting, said White, “He or she would be able to go back to the rent control board and get the kind of increase that is necessary to maintain habitable dwellings within the city.”

Pasadena renter and Pasadena Tenants Union member Allison Henry told the group she believes that her Councilmember, John Kennedy, was unsympathetic to her plight.

Said Henry at the Progressive Discussion Group meeting, “I wanted to go to him and say ‘Hey, Mr. Kennedy, we’re constituents, let us paint you a picture of a rental in Pasadena. We know you cannot run interference with our landlord, we’re not expecting that,’ but I really thought I was going to have a sympathetic listener. So five of my neighbors and I walked him through the rent increases, and his first response was that his tenants weren’t paying enough.”

Henry noted that she has so far been able to absorb the rent increases, but that her time is running out.

“As a working person, I can absorb the $250 increase I got, but I am anxious about April when the lease is up because while I can afford one more $250, I don’t know how much more I can afford,” she said.

“I am a mid-career professional in a really solid white-collar job,” Henry continued. “I do not have 60,000 or 80,000 to put down on a down payment for a home because I have things like retirement funds, and if anyone’s looked at the cost of medical care as of late, that’s another thing we’re worried about.”

Another concerned Pasadena resident, who asked that her name not be used, detailed to the group the effect of climbing rents on her family.

“Our rent has increased $529,” she said. “I’m just so worried about what’s gonna happen to us. I have a 4 year-old and a 6 year-old, and our plan is for me to is stay at home, hoping that’s going to work. And in this short time with having kids …I’m doing DoorDash and I’m not making any money doing that. In our building in the last 3 years, 18 of the 20 original tenants that have lived there for a long time, everybody knew each other, they’re all gone. They had to leave.”

White continued, “We’re in a position of having lost 85% of our affordable housing money and we don’t have an infrastructure in the city that really deals with affordable housing issues as a policy matter.”

“Now,” said White, “what we’re seeing is people are being moved out of the city. If you don’t have enough money, you’re just out of Pasadena.You can’t really expect that landlords are going to work to rent to people on section 8 if they can’t get the market rate. These are the kinds of things that we need to come to grips with, and we need an affordable housing advisory group that really grapples with these issues.

“The planning commission isn’t doing that,” she continued, “(and) we don’t have an affordable housing commission that zones in on this. So we’re kind of at a loss. As a result, the Pasadena Tenants Union came together to start organizing tenants around protections that are needed within the city.

Both Councilmembers Kennedy and Gordo disputed the Council’s ability to fairly consider the rent control issue.

“Every person comes to a discussion with whatever biases they may have, that doesn’t necessarily make the discussion less, it may enrich the discussion. I think that every Councilmember is required to be as objective as he or she can when discussing the city’s business, and whatever the city’s business is. That is my goal, to be objective, responsible, and understanding of various views and opinions,” Kennedy observed.

“It’s probably insulting to suggest that a Councilmember is biased before a Councilmember has been asked to speak on an issue on the record at City Council, and so sometimes people make assumptions that are not factually based, and they have every right to do so,” he concluded.

Councilmember Gordo echoed Kennedy’s response, saying, “Everybody comes to Council debates having had their own life’s experiences. And we all have to be prepared to always do what is in the best interest of the city. I believe that I have a clear track record of supporting efforts when they’re in the city’s best interest and opposing efforts when they’re not. This issue is no different than any other issue that I have considered in the past and I will do what I believe to be in the city’s best interest.”

Councilmember Hampton was not available for comment.

White, meanwhile, told the breakfast group that creating the new charter amendment would require “getting out, talking to people, talking about the specifics of the initiative that we have in mind.”

“We’re going to do door knocking,’ said White. “We’re going to be at various grocery stores, any agency that’s interested in hearing about this. We’re going to ask them, especially the nonprofits, to basically vote their conscience, vote their mission, because the preservation of poor people, middle-income people in Pasadena is contingent upon doing things like rent control.”

“Rent control isn’t the total answer,” she continued, “and we recognize that, but it’s one of the key components. We have a campaign that’s going to require recruiting volunteers, getting at least 150-200 signatures per volunteer per month. It’s a campaign that’s going to last for 6 months and we’ve mapped it out, we know where all of the rental properties are within the city.”

White said the Pasadena Tenants Union would need to collect between 12,000 and 15,000 signatures by May 2018 in order to qualify for the November 6, 2018 ballot.





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