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Guest Opinion | Rick Cole: Council Should Have Protected Tenants

Published on Monday, October 17, 2022 | 5:00 am

In his recent Pasadena Now Guest Opinion, Former Mayor Terry Tornek acknowledges the gravity and urgency of Pasadena’s affordable housing crisis: “Local enforcement of existing laws is not adequate. The City must step up . . . “

Yet he insists that Measure H, the Rent Control Measure is “not the appropriate way to govern in Pasadena.”

In an ideal world, the City Council would have already adopted effective measures to protect tenants from losing their homes. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where average rents in Pasadena jumped 20% just in the last year. To keep a roof over their heads, a third of renters in Pasadena are paying more than half their income to their landlords. That’s nearly 25,000 of our neighbors struggling to scrape by.

In an ideal world, we can imagine some other solution for this crisis. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where landlords will spend whatever it takes to protect their profits.

In an ideal world, voters in Pasadena wouldn’t have to choose between either “Yes” or “No” on Measure H. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where if this measure falls short, powerful interests will insist the voters have spoken. They’ll continue to aggressively fight any limitations on their ability to raise rents and evict tenants.

That makes the fate of Measure H a clear choice. Is Measure H perfect? No, but in thirty years of public service, I’ve never seen an important policy choice that was perfect. The choice for voters is not Measure H or some perfect alternative. The choice is whether or not tenants in Pasadena deserve stronger protection against unreasonable evictions and unreasonable rent increases.

Like former Mayor Tornek, I’ve carefully studied the measure – and the “independent” analysis ordered by the City. Since I teach public policy at Occidental College and Pepperdine University, I’m familiar with expert studies on the impacts of rent control. And over 19 years, I’ve served as a senior executive in three cities with rent control measures. I’m well-acquainted with the positives and the negatives of rent control in all its forms.

If you are hesitant to vote Yes because rent control is not perfect, I understand. Over the long haul, it’s better to have adequate housing for all. It’s better to protect low-income residents with permanently affordable non-profit or public housing. It’s better not to impose price restrictions on one segment of the economy.

But in Pasadena today, seniors, families and essential workers can’t wait for all those things to happen. They need protection now. If Measure H fails, they will continue to face being summarily evicted — or endure financial stress in order to cling to the place they call home. 

If you are a homeowner, your home is either paid off or you likely have a fixed-rate mortgage. It may be hard to imagine being arbitrarily told you have 30 days to find another place to live – or have to somehow absorb a crippling blow to your budget starting next month. You have the luxury of advocating for some better solution someday. Renters in Pasadena don’t have that luxury. They have to pay their next rent payment on November 1 — whatever it may be. These neighbors have to face the painful choice of what in their budget will have to be sacrificed to keep a roof over their head – and the heads of their children.

I know former Mayor Tornek is sincere in his belief that there is a better answer out there . . . somewhere . . . someday. He may be correct. But all my experience tells me not to rely on such an idealistic hope in the face of political reality.

Instead, I implore homeowners to put themselves in the place of your neighbors who are tenants. Those neighbors make up a majority of the residents of our city. They include essential workers vital to our economy and long-time residents vital to our sense of shared community. 

If your personal housing security depended on the tenant protections in Measure H, I think you know how you would vote. I ask you to give the same consideration to your neighbors whose housing security is in danger right now. It’s as simple as the Golden Rule: care for others as you would expect others to care for you. 

Please, vote Yes on Measure H.

Rick Cole is a current Planning Commissioner and former Mayor.

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