VOICES--As Californians up and down the state cast ballots in the primary election, some incumbent lawmakers in Sacramento may have hoped their decisions on a pair of renter protections fell below voters’ radar.
On May 31, two bills aiming to prevent arbitrary evictions of renters and close a commonly used loophole for displacing tenants--AB 2925 and AB 2364--died when several Democratic Assembly members chose to ignore the housing crisis and voted against our most basic interests.
AB 2925, introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, an Oakland Democrat, would have removed state-imposed limits on how “cause” for eviction is determined and would have allowed local municipalities to define “just cause” locally. As it stands, cities cannot currently decide for themselves what rules should exist to protect renters from unfair evictions because state law is pre-emptive.
In addition, AB 2364, sponsored by Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica and representing much of Westside LA, would have closed loopholes in the Ellis Act that have allowed some landlords to force out tenants and raise the price of rent-controlled units. This bill would have also created a pathway for displaced tenants to return to their building, with a similar rental agreement, if the unit was re-offered for rent within 5 years of when the tenant was displaced.
In California, an estimated 500,000 tenants face eviction each year. That’s more than the entire population of an Assembly District! In 2016 alone, 3,255 renters in Los Angeles were evicted, prompting local observers to note in the LA Times that evictions are now adding to the surge in homelessness as landlords force even tenants with flawless payment records from their dwellings and neighborhoods and onto the streets. L.A. County’s homelessness survey last week reported more than 53,000 homeless this year.
Despite the extreme housing and homeless crisis, on May 31, Democrats killed both bills on the Assembly floor. Eleven Assembly Democrats joined Republicans in voting “no” on AB 2925, but an astonishing 26 Democrats did not even bother to record a vote, which is in effect a vote against the bill.
Particularly disturbing is that Los Angeles area Democrats whose communities are grappling with the threat of displacement failed to act on behalf of their most vulnerable constituents. Newly sworn in Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, who represents Westside areas including Culver City, actually joined Republicans to oppose AB 2925. Meanwhile, Democrats who represent the East and Northeast L.A. areas hardest hit by evictions and displacement chose to ignore the important vote. Wendy Carrillo, newly elected in Assembly District 51 (Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Echo Park, Silver Lake) and Miguel Santiago in District 53 (Boyle Heights, Downtown L.A., Hancock Park) helped kill the bill by simply choosing not to vote.
The second bill, AB 2364, would have closed loopholes that have allowed landlords to misuse the Ellis Act for decades, ousting tenants while claiming family use of rental units and then converting them for sale or re-rental at inflated prices. It also failed to pass because 11 Democrats voted “no” and 17 did not show up or chose not to vote.
Democratic members in the L.A. area who did not vote include Autumn Burke (Inglewood, Venice, Marina del Rey), Cristina Garcia (Downey, Bell Gardens, Cerritos), Mike Gipson (Carson, Compton, Gardena), and Al Muratsuchi (Torrance, Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes) along with Sydney Kamlager and Miguel Santiago. Santiago, who is meeting with community leaders to explore a run for City Council District 14 in 2020, did not vote on either of the tenants’ rights bills.
Many of their constituents expressed bewilderment and anger while calling the Assemblymembers’ offices to demand an explanation for ducking such an important vote. To date, their inquiries have not been answered.
“Even on a very weak bill like this one [on no-cause eviction], already watered down to get more votes, when the monied elite opposition barks, the California Apartment Association (CAA) and California Board of Realtors in this case, many Democrats as well as the Republicans heel,” says Walt Senterfitt, co-founder of LA Tenants Union.
The CAA and its allies spent heavily in dooming both bills, organizing grassroots opposition that included a letter-writing campaign to lawmakers.
Democratic legislators who for too long have shirked or hidden from their responsibility to address the housing and homeless crisis must now answer to constituents for their glaring inaction on AB 2925 and AB 2364.
(Hector Huezo, a member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, is founder of the Alliance of River Communities and an elected member of the LA County Democratic Central Committee.Rocio Rivas is a member of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, where she is co-chair of the Family, Youth, and Education Committee and chair of the Housing and Homelessness Committee. Huezo and Rivas are active members of the East Area Progressive Democrats.)