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With Rents Skyrocketing, Inglewood Is Working On A Plan To Protect Tenants

A for rent sign is posted in front of an apartment building in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) (Justin Sullivan/)
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These days, Inglewood is attracting billions of dollars of commercial investment. That's good for property values. But it also fuels land speculation that drives gentrification and displaces renters who can't afford the new going rate.

Now, the city is moving forward on a comprehensive plan to protect tenants. The policy would:

  • Limit rent increases to 8% per year
  • Add eviction protection for tenants
  • Compel landlords to provide relocation assistance for renters who are displaced

The policy isn't final yet, but Inglewood's city council unanimously approved a motion on Tuesday that asks the city attorney to draft a formal ordinance with the above terms. The ordinance should be ready in about two months, at which point Inglewood's city council would be able to vote it into law.
That vote is not without controversy. Here's what Inglewood Mayor James Butts told one of the landlord/property owners who protested that the proposed rules would take money out of his pocket:

"The conundrum we find ourselves in when we talk about trying to protect people's housing is that it's somewhat at the expense of people who bought an asset in Inglewood. But the difference between being a housing provider and owning a hardware store is people can choose whether or not to buy a hammer, but people don't have much choice when they suddenly they can't afford next month's rent. And there are children involved, so it's just not that simple."

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Tenants' rights are a hot topic in housing-stressed California. Though Prop. 10-- a statewide proposition that would have allowed cities to expand tenant protections to all renters-- failed (spectacularly) at the polls last November, a huge number of Southern California residents remain burdened by housing costs.

Approximately one-third of all the renting households in Los Angeles and Orange Counties pay more than half of their income on housing, according toHarvard's Joint Center For Housing Studies. In Los Angeles County, about 600,000 people -- 6% of the county's population -- live in households where 90% of all income goes to housing, according to theEconomic Round Table.

Thetraditional rule-of-thumb says housing is "unaffordable" if it eats up more than 30 percent of a household's income.

Inglewood is one of a handful of cities in Los Angeles County pursuing more robust tenant protections after Proposition 10 was voted down last year. Glendale passed a law in February, requiring landlords to pay relocation assistance to tenants if they raise rent by more than 7%. Long Beach may be following Glendale's lead. The L.A. County board of supervisors has also limited rent increases to 3% annually, while they polish up a policy that would bring rent stabilization and eviction protection to the unincorporated parts of the county.

Butts has led the charge to enact renter protections in the city after being urged to do so by tenant organizers with the Uplift Inglewood Coalition. In past years, Butts has also helped secure billions of dollars of commercial investment in Inglewood. But that investment --notably a $4.9 billion NFL stadium, a surrounding entertainment district and a nearby Metro Rail line -- has also driven much higher land prices and rents.

Nia Taylor is an Inglewood resident whose apartment building has been sold twice in the past three years. When she first rented the 2-bedroom apartment where she currently lives, she paid $1,095 monthly. She now pays $1,995 and her new landlord is asking for another $300.

A rendering of the Inglewood NFL stadium decked out in Olympic Regalia (Photo courtesy LA28)

"I told the new owner in January 'Hey we just got an increase about four months ago, and at that time it was a $400 increase.' And now it's going to be another $300 increase," said Taylor. "The thing is, I would love to be an owner, but I can't save if the rent keeps going up."

Taylor worries about the long-term prospects for Inglewood if poor people continue to get priced out. About 64% of the city's residents are renters.

"My neighbors have become family, all the kids in the complex [are like family]. When we get pushed out, all of those relationships that make a community get broken up. When those communities get broken up, what does that do to the people? What does that do to Inglewood?," she asked.

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On the flip side, the majority of people who showed up to Tuesday afternoon's city council meeting were small-time landlords worried that the proposed rules would infringe on their property rights.

"We're discussing essentially what we're going to take from property owners, and there's very little discussed what the property owner gets in return," said Rod Wright, an Inglewood landlord and former California state Senator. "I understand that the property owner may have an upper hand, but we're not villains. We sacrificed to purchase the property that we own."

Wright and other owners are particularly concerned over the proposed relocation fees landlords would have to pay if a tenant whose rent was raised by more than 4% decided to move out. For example, the proposal considered Tuesday would require landlords pay tenants leaving a 1-bedroom unit $9,000 under those circumstances. The fee on a 2-bedroom unit would be $11,200.

"All property owners are not the same," said Wright. "I am a single property owner, but in many instances and proposals I'm treated just like an investment bank. Those individuals can afford to pay $11,000 to $12,000 if someone moves out, but I would have to finance [that] if someone moved out."

Butts acknowledged that the proposal was not final, and that he and other councilmembers would consider all the comments and correspondence they've received on this issue.

He also added that what property owners get in return from this policy, is a more stable Inglewood community.

"I know that you have compassion, so you know this is not about trying to limit your ability to make a profit off your investment. But, you chose housing, and it's a different investment than securities... there's a social cost to purchasing housing, and you're going to have to figure that into your prospectus," Butts said. "From a social perspective, there has to be something that buffers the capitalistic economy we have, and the reality that people can't wake up one day [realizing they] have to move out in 60 days."