Amid L.A.'s peak housing crisis, certain legal evictions from rent-controlled apartments in Los Angeles have more than doubled compared with the same time last year, according to the nonprofit Coalition for Economic Survival.
A state law known as the Ellis Act allows owners of apartments regulated under the city's rent-stabilization ordinance to get out of the rental game and convert to condos or tear down their structures and start anew. The latter is what most of the landlords have been doing in recent years, says the coalition's executive director, Larry Gross.
The organization found 638 Ellis Act evictions through the first half of 2017. For the same time last year, there were 294. A map of such evictions can be seen here. "We're losing seven units a day," Gross says. "We're facing an emergency. Every unit on that map, every one of those dots, represents families whose lives have been totally disrupted."
In some cases, he says, people are ending up on the streets. The evictions correlate, Gross says, to the rise in homelessness in the county, which has seen a 23 percent increase since last year. "One way you have to deal with homeless people on the street is to get them in homes," he says. "But if you don't shut off the faucet
and the water keeps running — people being pushed out of homes and out to the street — there's no way we're going to truly address homelessness in the city."
A recent report by the California Housing Partnership Corporation concluded that Los Angeles County needs 551,807 new housing units for folks who are on the edge of homelessness today. While those Ellis Act actions could recycle units in the form of new, luxury housing updated to higher, market-rate rents that would then be regulated under rent stabilization, critics say that does little to address L.A.'s housing crisis.
"Mayor [Eric] Garcetti is leading a very unfortunate push to bring in luxury housing and push out existing affordable housing, and the landlords in these areas are cashing in, by evicting decent people to raise the rents sky-high in suddenly 'hot' areas," Jill Stewart, executive director of the Coalition to Preserve L.A., said via email. (Stewart is the former managing editor of L.A. Weekly.) "Garcetti and the City Council are playing a terrible game here, driving out our janitors, bus drivers, hotel workers and restaurant employees and creating a situation we can't build our way out of. Instead, Garcetti and the City Council should be aggressively campaigning to reform the Ellis Act."
Mayoral spokesman Alex Comisar said via email that Los Angeles is indeed in the midst of an "unprecedented housing crisis that we can only overcome by expanding access to affordable housing as quickly as possible."
"That’s why Mayor Garcetti is taking every possible step to incentivize more housing production, and calling on the City Council to pass an affordable housing linkage fee that would add more than 1,000 affordable units to the market every year," he said. "At the same time, we must protect the affordable housing we already have. The mayor has already strengthened the rent-stabilization ordinance, and we are taking new steps to educate renters about their rights — so we can keep families together in their homes, and Angelenos can feel more secure in the neighborhoods they know and love."
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Councilman Gil Cedello has authored a series of local laws aimed at strengthening the rights of rent-control tenants. Among them is a directive to track evictions and rent increases and create a registry for all 600,000 or so rent-stabilized units.
"I have not been able to confirm the [coalition's] numbers, but I do know that illegal Ellis Act evictions have increased in the city of Los Angeles, impacting some communities more than others," Cedillo said via email. "As chair of the Housing Committee, I have worked with HCID [Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department] to strengthen tenant protections, track illegal evictions and crack down on Ellis Act abuses."
Gross says more needs to be done, including stricter enforcement against landlords who skirt the laws regarding rent-control evictions, and expansion of rent control–eligible units so that affordable housing is available to an increasing number of Angelenos who need it. The City Council, he said, could use land-use laws to create affordable housing and discourage Ellis Act conversions and demolitions.
"They can't stop the loss of the housing, but they can definitely determine what's built there," Gross says. "There can be disincentives on what is being built. We also need to put a stronger emphasis on preservation. It needs to be an equal partner with housing production."