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Housing and Homelessness

Will Pasadena Be The Next City To Adopt Rent Control? Voters Will Decide This Election

Measure H campaign volunteers gather in Pasadena's Jefferson Park to prepare to knock on doors in support of rent control.
Measure H campaign volunteers gather in Pasadena's Jefferson Park to prepare to knock on doors in support of rent control.
(David Wagner
LAist )
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With inflation up and rents rising, cities across California have been adopting new forms of rent control. Next month, voters in Pasadena will decide if their city joins the trend.

Measure H, an initiative on the November ballot, would limit annual rent increases and pass new eviction protections in Pasadena.

LISTEN: Will Rent Control Come To Pasadena?

Supporters say rent control will stop the kinds of double-digit rent hikes now wreaking havoc on household budgets and pushing people out of the city.

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UCLA Lewis Center housing policy researcher Shane Phillips said steep rent hikes are “adding fuel to the fire and making people feel that [rent control] is even more of a necessity.”

Landlord groups are staunchly opposed, saying new limits — on top of shifting COVID eviction protections and rising maintenance costs — could drive small landlords out of business.

“What the activists have not liked is that the local city council has not agreed with their position,” said Fred Sutton, a spokesperson for the California Apartment Association. “They're going to try to put it on the ballot and convince people that this is some sort of good housing policy."

 PJ Johnson stands outside the Pasadena apartment where her monthly payment recently increased by $110.
PJ Johnson stands outside the Pasadena apartment where her monthly payment recently increased by $110.
(David Wagner/LAist)

About 57% of households in Pasadena rent rather than own their home. Many renters told us they’re facing enormous financial pressure and an uncertain future.

“I live and work for my rent,” said PJ Johnson, a gardening teacher in local Pasadena schools who shares a one-bedroom apartment with her teenage son.

Johnson recently got a $110 monthly increase on her unit. She wants to stay in Pasadena at least until her son graduates high school. She’s not sure if she can make it.

“I barely can afford this. Like, it's choking me,” Johnson said. “If it goes up another $100, I don't know how we can do it.”

Against that economic backdrop, Measure H will be a key test of voters’ desire to expand rent control to more of Southern California.

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A 'Now Or Never' Moment For Pasadena Rent Control

On a recent Sunday morning, volunteers gathered in Pasadena’s Jefferson Park to learn how to pitch their neighbors to support the rent control measure. After getting instructions from campaign field director Bee Rooney, they fanned out to spread the word on Measure H.

The measure would limit annual rent increases to 75% of the local consumer price index (a commonly cited measure of inflation) and require landlords to provide a “just cause” for evicting tenants in Pasadena, such as non-payment of rent or causing a nuisance.

While walking from door to door, volunteer Jane Panangaden recalled collecting signatures to qualify Measure H for the November ballot.

“One of the most common responses I got when I was signature-gathering was, ‘We needed this 10 years ago. We needed this 20 years ago,’” she said. “People have eyes. And they can see what's happening.”

 Jane Panangaden leaves a Measure H campaign flier at the door of Pasadena home.
Jane Panangaden leaves a Measure H campaign flier at the door of Pasadena home.
(David Wagner/LAist)

Panangaden stopped to chat with Allison Nagle, who was doing yard work outside her house. Nagle said as a homeowner, she wouldn’t directly benefit from rent control — but her kids might.

“I have two college graduate children who are still living at home because they can't afford to live in their own apartment,” Nagle said.

Panangaden said she hears concerns like this all the time, and she urged Nagle to vote yes on Measure H.

“I really appreciate the support,” she said. “It's been a five-year community effort to get this on the ballot. So it's a now or never moment.”

Most Pasadena Households Burdened By High Housing Costs

A typical two-bedroom apartment in Pasadena now goes for almost $2,500 per month, according to the city’s most recent housing planning document.

City officials calculate that 56% of residents are paying more than the recommended 30% of income on housing payments. These housing burdens can end up forcing families to cut back on other necessities like health care and education costs.

Tenant organizers began pushing Pasadena’s city council to pass rent control years ago. When that didn’t work, they tried and failed to qualify for the ballot in 2018. The city council recently voted to remain neutral on Measure H, neither supporting or officially opposing it.

  • How much can your rent go up right now? Click here to read our guide to allowable rent increases in the L.A. area.

California voters have rejected rent control in the past. The statewide rent control initiative Proposition 10 failed by nearly 19 percentage points in 2018, and another statewide proposition failed by a similarly large margin in 2020.

But coming out of a disastrous pandemic, and with limited affordable housing continuing to disappear, things could be different this time.

“Housing is just getting more and more expensive,” said Shane Phillips with UCLA’s Lewis Center.

Under the state law AB 1482, which allows rents to rise faster than inflation, landlords can now hike rents up to 10% in cities that lack local rent control. Phillips said wages have not kept up.

“More and more people feel like they're not going to own a home and get the security of a mortgage,” he said. “This is sort of a next best option. If I'm going to be renting for who knows how long, at least I can have these protections to know that I'm not going to have to be shuffled from one home to the next every few years.”

Why Rent Control Is Spreading In California

In recent months, cities across California — such as Pomona and Bell Gardens in L.A. County, and Antioch in the Bay Area — have responded to tenants’ financial hardships by adopting new rent control laws. There are also proposals on the November ballot to strengthen existing rent control requirements in Santa Monica and Richmond, CA.

Leon Khachooni with the Foothill Apartment Association said landlords don’t want to see rent control spread any further. He said they’ve already been contending with tenants deferring rent payments during the pandemic, as well as high inflation.

“The cost of practically everything going through the roof — maintenance, water heaters, roofs, construction in general — that's been hitting them quite hard too,” Khachooni said.

Rent control will hurt small landlords, Khachooni said, but it won’t create more affordable housing. He said just look at high-priced Santa Monica and the city of L.A. — they’ve had rent control for decades, and what do they have to show for it?

Retiree Renters Feel Squeezed Out Of Pasadena

 Lorynne Young looks out the window of her Pasadena bungalow apartment, where she recently got a rent hike of nearly 10%.
Lorynne Young looks out the window of her Pasadena bungalow apartment, where she recently got a rent hike of nearly 10%.
(David Wagner/LAist)

But many tenants are more concerned about the double-digit rent hikes they’re getting right now.

The monthly rent on Lorynne Young’s apartment is about to rise by $140. Retired and on a fixed income, rent will soon gobble up 63% of her budget.

“You can't just go out and say oh, I'll just go get a part time job. They're not hiring seniors,” Young said. “It's a scary thing that you have to think about. What will I do?”

Young said other tenants in her Pasadena bungalow court also received rent increase notices of up to 10% recently. She knows that homelessness is rising faster among seniors than for any other age group in L.A. County.

“I've started looking at trying to get on lists for affordable housing projects,” Young said. “But there are waitlists. It's not like you can just go find a new place really quickly.”

Who's Funding Campaigns For And Against Measure H?

Measure H’s top financial backers include a political action committee of the long-term care workers union SEIU Local 2015 and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, an L.A. nonprofit known for bankrolling slow-growth initiatives.

Funding to defeat Measure H has largely come from realtors and landlord groups.

One point of contention has been the rent control board the measure would create. Opponents say unelected board members would be unaccountable to the city council, and would be a waste of public spending. But proponents say the independent board would play a crucial role in investigating violations and enforcing compliance.

Campaign volunteer Jane Panangadan said whenever she’s out drumming up support for Measure H, almost everyone she meets thinks rent is too high.

She said, “If you talk to someone at the door who just got a rent increase notice, they're like, ‘Yeah, of course, I want to vote yes on this.’”

Even undecided voters told her that rents have to come down.

Homeowner Juan Sosa said on the one hand, rent control could potentially limit his future income if he decides to become a landlord some day.

On the other hand, he sees his co-workers and neighbors leaving Pasadena due to high rents.

“It seems that they are being pushed out,” Sosa said.

What questions do you have about housing in Southern California?