Asking the landlord for a sink repair in one’s own apartment usually wouldn’t be a just reason to evict that person out of his unit, but such trivial requests are frequently the untold cause of displacements, according to Josh Butler, executive director of nonprofit Housing Long Beach.
Butler, an advocate for rent control and a proposed November ballot initiative dubbed the “Long Beach Fair Rent, Just Cause for Eviction and Homeowner Protection Ordinance,” claims he is fighting– alongside his fellow Housing Long Beach members– in the interest of the community to prevent consistent unjust evictions in the city.
“At the end of the day, in a tight rental market, tenants are just at the mercy of their landlords,” Butler told the Signal Tribune in a phone interview Wednesday. “We felt like there needed to be some fair eviction protection.”
Housing Long Beach representatives took the stage at the Scottish Rite Event Center Monday, May 7 to address the rent-control issue with residents, many of whom were vocal about their support for fair tenant protections.
The nonprofit Housing Long Beach is part of a larger coalition named #RentControlNow that advocates for renters’ rights and protections in the city.
Butler told the Signal Tribune that the ordinance petition needs a total of 28,000 signatures by the end of May to achieve its goal of being on the November 2018 ballot. The ordinance aims to: establish rent control in the interest of keeping housing affordable for low-income and middle-class families; provide renter protection; and emphasize “just cause” evictions to defend tenants from unjustified displacements.
“The main purpose of the ordinance is to establish rent stabilization here in Long Beach,” Butler said. “And, that doesn’t mean rent is not going to go up, it just means rent is going to go up tied to the consumer-price index. When the economy is improving, the landlord is going to increase the rent. If the economy is not improving, then the landlords can’t raise the rent. It’s tied to that, and we’re all kind of in this together. That’s why we think of this as community-first protection. It also establishes a just cause for eviction. That means the landlord must have an actual reason for throwing the tenant out.”
Butler said the coalition has to “make a big push” to reach its signature goal by the end of May.
Throughout the city, small businesses and groups, such as Khmer Girls in Action, have teamed with the coalition to offer their location as a place to sign in favor of the ordinance. The Housing Long Beach headquarters, 525 E. 7th St., is also open for residents to sign the petition.
During the meeting Monday, Benyamin Chao, a community organizer with Housing Long Beach, said that, since 2014, rent in Long Beach has gone up by an average of 20 to 30 percent. The statistics are according to various outlets, such as Zillow and Rent Jungle, Butler said.
When Chao prompted the audience to raise their hands if they had their own personal experiences with rent increases and if they knew someone who left the city because of unjustified evictions, almost half of the audience responded in the affirmative.
“I know for a lot of us, that 30-percent increase means less money for the other things that we need to pay for in life,” Chao told the crowd, “including our children’s education, our health care, quality food and, honestly, your time. We all have a limited amount of time, and people are just starting to pick up second jobs, third jobs to pay for these rent increases. That’s not fair.”
When asked for his opinion about his faith in the City of Long Beach to address the rent-control and eviction issues, Butler said he didn’t have trust in local leaders to respond accordingly.
“I don’t anticipate them doing anything for rent control,” he said. “Rent control is not in the interest of landlords and realtors. That’s driving the machine gun at City Hall– not the interest of the renters, not the interest of 50 percent of our city. If that was the case, we would have heard something from somebody over there, but we’ve heard nothing from anybody.”
Kevin Lee, public affairs officer with the City of Long Beach, emailed two memos to the Signal Tribune Thursday afternoon about the City’s work on addressing rent control.
On March 20, the Long Beach City Council directed staff to review and evaluate the proposed ordinance in regard to its impact and legality in the city, according to the first memorandum, dated April 19.
The memo reads that, currently, only California, Washington DC, Maryland, New York and New Jersey have some form of rent control in the United States. In California, 15 cities regulate rent, but the memo also adds that regulations were diminished significantly following the 1995 passage of the Costa-Hawkins Act, which limits rent-control policies.
The City’s April 25 memo reads that the potential ordinance could collect enough signatures to be on the November ballot, but it is also possible that it could be placed on the ballot for a special election.
Ultimately, the City identified six instances in which the rent-control initiative would violate the city charter, and staff suggested that, if the ordinance were to pass, litigation would be necessary to address the “significant inconsistencies.”
More information about the #RentControlNow coalition and nonprofit Housing Long Beach is available at lbrentcontrol.org or housinglb.org. The proposed “Long Beach Fair Rent, Just Cause for Eviction and Homeowner Protection Ordinance” is also available to read via longbeach.gov at the following link: bit.ly/2IyvxHw.