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Renters press officials for affordable housing

December 10, 2006|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

In another sign of the growing potency of low-income housing as a political issue in Los Angeles, a group of about 100 tenants held a forum Saturday to press elected leaders to create more affordable units and to prosecute slum landlords.

Meeting in a South Los Angeles community center, tenants speaking English and Spanish told stories of utilities cut off for no reason, eviction notices delivered without cause and unabated rats and cockroaches. One man said that his landlord tolerated prostitution on the premises. Another compared Los Angeles to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Calcutta.

"I need to know where the City Council stands," said Percy Banks, who lives in a downtown building and is a member of the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which helped organize the meeting. "Do they stand with developers? Or do they stand with us?"

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry got a standing ovation when she told the tenants she backed proposals to create more housing in the city.

The meeting came a month after Measure H, which would have been the largest municipal housing bond in U.S. history, was narrowly defeated at the polls. The proposed $1-billion package would have created about 10,000 affordable housing units and increased the number of such dwellings in Los Angeles by about 13%. It received 62% of the vote, just short of the required two-thirds majority.

Many activists say they want to keep the pressure on political leaders to find solutions. The average rent in the city, about $1,700 a month, has nearly doubled in the last 12 years. Meanwhile, although nearly 13,000 affordable units have been built using city money in the last six years, more than 10,000 existing rent-controlled units were torn down or converted to condominiums in the same period.

Perry said she believed political support was growing for measures that would create more affordable housing.

"Regular, normal people are beginning to understand how it impacts them," she said, adding that she believed that almost everyone knew someone who couldn't afford to live in Los Angeles even though they worked full time.

Some landlords, however, have said that even current city rules are too onerous. The city's rent-stabilization law limits increases in many buildings to 4% a year and makes it difficult to evict tenants. Once a tenant moves out, the landlord can raise the rent to market values.

Deputy City Atty. Serena Christion said her office intended to prosecute landlords who have numerous health, safety and fire-code violations, and that some could wind up being sentenced to live in their own decrepit buildings for months at a time.

She took the addresses of several tenants who complained of problems.

At the end of the meeting, she was surrounded by tenants beseeching her to go after their landlords.

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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