By Gus Herrera
At their latest regular meeting, the Pasadena Unified School District’s (PUSD) Board of Education ratified a symbolic gesture of support for Pasadena’s citizen-driven effort to place a rent control charter amendment on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot.
In a rare 4-0-3 vote (Board Members Roy Boulghourjian, Kimberly Kenne, Lawrence Torres abstained), the board approved Resolution 2448 – formally placing the school district in support of the Pasadena Fair and Equitable Housing Charter Amendment.
The proposed charter amendment, filed by the Pasadena Tenants Union (PTU) in November 2017, hopes to establish rent control for units that are part of multi-unit complexes, built prior to 1995.
According to a statement released by the PTU, the proposed rent control will be regulated by a five-person board, to be appointed by the city council. The board, which will operate independently of the city council and city attorney, “will establish regulations, determine the allowable annual rent adjustment, hear individual rent adjustment petitions, and go to court to enforce the measure.”
Landlords will still be able to raise rent annually, “by the percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index,” but any annual increase would be capped at 4.5 percent. The city currently has no cap on the amount of times a landlord can raise rent within a single year.
The proposed charter amendment will also include a “just cause” component, wherein landlords may not evict a tenant without citing a specific lease violation (i.e. non-payment of rent, unlawful activity, or other “serious causes”). This stands in contrast to the city’s current provisions, under which a landlord “may evict good tenants without cause with as little as a 30-day notice in some cases,” per the PTU.
Landlords would also be “prohibited from retaliating or harassing their tenants for reporting violations of the measure.”
With the average rent for a one-bedroom unit having risen 51.7 percent in the past six years (according to the PTU), the idea of rent control has been percolating for quite some time now but has failed to gain traction with the mayor or city council (three of whom are known landlords).
That said, as a renter-majority city – the U.S. Census Bureau 2010-2014 American Community Survey revealed that 56 percent of Pasadena’s residents are renters – Pasadena has quickly witnessed the rise of a grassroots movement intent on imposing citizen-led legislation.
“Because city council has done nothing to address these concerns, city residents are now petitioning voters through a ballot initiative to provide housing stability for renters,” reads the PTU’s statement.
PUSD Board Member Scott Phelps, who placed the item on the meeting’s agenda, urged his colleagues to seize the opportunity to take some form of action, albeit symbolically, “here’s an opportunity where [we] could do something for the families that are leaving the district.”
Although Phelps recognized the uphill battle that the proposed charter amendment still faces to be placed on the ballot – volunteers must gather close to 13,000 signatures before the May deadline – and even acknowledged the mayor’s opposition to the charter amendment, he remained steadfast to the cause, “I just feel … as a board member … my job is to think about our families,” he said.
Board Member Patrick Cahalan, who revealed that his gut response “as a ‘policy wonk guy’ is to say ‘no’” to rent control, admitted that under the current circumstances rent control is indeed the appropriate policy tool to help the district.
“Nobody is going to deny that rents are crushingly high in Pasadena, they are absurdly high … this is something we can do … [it] is a symbolic gesture, but I think it’s kind of an important one in support of the families … that we have in this district,” he said.
Board Member Michelle Richardson-Bailey also supported the resolution, “I think we all agree that the housing issue in this community has had a direct impact on the decline of enrollment in our district.”
“I’m looking forward to … joining you all in the field,” said Bailey to the volunteers in the audience.
Board Member Elizabeth Pomeroy cast the fourth vote in support of the resolution, while Boulghourjian, Kenne, and Torres chose to abstain.