Supporters of amending laws to help renters avoid evictions said Friday that if changes aren’t made at the state and local levels, homelessness will continue to increase.
The California Rent Afforability Act is a campaign that calls for expanding rent control on more residential buildings, repealing state law that prohibits local governments from keeping rent increases lower and repealing the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to get out of the rental market by evicting tenants.
The campaign is sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Although the state and Los Angeles have put temporary restrictions on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rene Christian Moya, director of the Rental Affordability Act ballot campaign, said once those restrictions are lifted, there could be a “tsunami of evictions.”
“We’re going to see tens of thousands of people in this city and across the state going homeless,” Moya said.
At the onset of the news conference outside Los Angeles City Hall, a Black Lives Matter protest began and temporarily interrupted the speakers, but things quickly calmed down.
“What happened today at this press conference is an example of the anger — the righteous and real anger — that this city and the state face right now,” Moya said. “We’re in a moment of crisis, unprecedented crisis for the first time in a century. The homeless numbers that were dropped today, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Where are we going to be in six months when these protections are lifted?”
The statements came on the day the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported the number of homeless people it counted in January throughout the county increased by 12.7% over the previous year, while the city of Los Angeles’ homeless population jumped by 14.2%.
In January 2019, Los Angeles County had 58,936 homeless people, but this year’s number rose to 66,433. The city of Los Angeles counted 36,165 in 2019, and 41,290 in January.
The LAHSA report concludes that 15,000 fewer people would be homeless if not for institutional racism.
“Housing must be a human right, poverty must be the priority, and as we can clearly see, we must dismantle the structures of racism, if we want to solve homelessness on our streets,” Councilman David Ryu said. “If you’re black in Los Angeles, you are four times more likely to experience homelessness and black Angelenos are overrepresented almost five times as much in the homeless population.”
Ryu was the author of a City Council motion earlier this year that would have temporarily stopped rent increases during the state of emergency order across all leased housing units, not just rent-stabilized units, but it failed to pass as other council members said that would have violated the Costa-Hawkins Act, which prohibits such restrictions.
“This city and this nation will no longer accept the status quo,” Ryu said. “Solving homelessness will take radical shift in our policies … and I look forward to working with all of you in the long journey ahead of us.”
Ryu filed a motion in November that would give the mayor of Los Angeles the power to initiate a response to homelessness similar to how the Federal Emergency Management Agency responds to disasters, but it has not moved forward in City Council since then.
The motion would authorize the City Council to declare a local homelessness state of emergency and provide full authority of the crisis to the mayor’s office.
“This pandemic has shown that a FEMA-like response is possible and works,” Ryu said. “In the last three months alone, we housed over 6,000 people. We need that kind of response to the pandemic of homelessness, and I hope the mayor will join me in pushing for this legislation.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti was quoted by Business Insider in March saying he would want that kind of response to addressing homelessness.
“Over a year ago, I said we needed a FEMA-like response to homelessness, and it was the only way we’d ever scale up the resources to truly end homelessness, not just hope to reduce it by a small percentage,” Garcetti said.
Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin said the homeless count numbers released Friday were “tragic and utterly unacceptable.”
“Billions of dollars have been committed to address homelessness by the city and county of Los Angeles, yet we have far too little to show for the money or work,” Galperin said. “What we have is more people, more families, living on our streets in squalid conditions. Local governments and service providers must do better.”
Galperin released an audit last year that recommended changes to homeless outreach and direct more of the city’s Proposition HHH loan funding toward immediate solutions.
“With the crisis deepening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, action must be taken at a quicker pace to implement change,” Galperin said. “We need more immediate and interim solutions, storage and hygiene facilities, safe parking locations, services to treat mental health and substance abuse and better methods for collecting data and using it to house people experiencing homelessness.”
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