Council Hears Pros, Cons of Rent Control

By Julie BUTCHER

It was well after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning when the name on the last of 65 speaker cards was called by the three remaining members of the Glendale City Council to speak for or against the “non-binding rent review, right-to-lease, and relocation program.” This program was to replace the temporary two-month rent freeze voted in December and set to lapse on Feb. 27.

Mayor Zareh Sinanyan recused himself from the deliberations, reportedly for having encouraged participation in the current meeting, and asked his colleagues to put off voting on the draft ordinance for an additional week, which they did. Members of the public had packed the lobby of Glendale City Hall starting before 5 p.m., many with expressive printed and hand-made signs, some gathering signatures on petitions, others distributing informational leaflets; deli-style numbers were used to fill the seats in the council meeting room upstairs.

“Affordable housing is a human right. We (the Glendale Tenants Union) believe this is the number one issue impacting our community right now and we are not going to rest until we pass an ordinance that establishes rent control in Glendale,” tenant union leader Hayk Makhmuryan said outside the council meeting. Her puffy parka pulled tight against her face in the inordinately cold night, Makhmuryan’s mother said that she was there “to support our son,” and because Glendale rents are “just too high. People who have lived here for years, for generations, can’t afford to stay. It’s just not right.”

Organizers have twice failed to qualify a rent control initiative for the ballot, coming close in 2017. A 2016 City study showed that more than 60% of the City’s residents are renters and that 57% are defined as “cost-burdened,” spending at least one-third of their monthly income on rent.

In the fall of 2018, after the County of Los Angeles implemented a six-month moratorium on rent hikes higher than 3%, the City of Glendale voted in a two-month rent freeze.

Local realtor Elizabeth Manasserian wondered about the newly proposed ordinance, which brings back the right-to-lease notion that was discussed several years ago.

“We’re not sure what this is and where it’s been used. What we are in favor of is the fair treatment of renters and of landlords. Where there are good policies for everyone, we’re open to compromise,” she said.

Holding a sign that read “No Communist System! No Rent Control!” Vigen Ohanian expounded on the theme of his sign.

“This is taking from landlords to give to the tenants. What else would it be called? Ninety-five percent of the landlords are acting in good faith. We earned our money. Shouldn’t we get to keep it?” he asked. “This will discourage investment in our local community; some people will sell cheap and get out. We’re not living in a socialist country.”

Meanwhile, Haidouk Keshishian waited impatiently in the lobby.

“These are problems caused by a small percent of bad actors,” he acknowledged, “but it opens up a can of worms. Before, I never raised the rents; now I’m going do it every year.”

According to City staff, the right-to-lease measure would require landlords to offer their tenants a one-year lease at the time of a proposed rent increase. The ordinance would additionally establish a rent review process establishing a non-binding mediation system for increases over 7%. Finally, rent relocation funds would be provided for renters facing increases above the 7% who choose to move after going through the rent review mediation steps. The Council is debating the amount of relocation recompense between three and six times the current rent, either the actual rent or an average of area market rents.

According to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, local rent control laws tend to increase a tenant’s probability of staying by 20% while decreasing the regional rental supply by 15%. Some studies also suggest a diminishment in maintenance levels. At the same time, the National Low Income Housing Coalition analyzes the hourly wage required to afford rents in urban areas. It sets that rate for a two-bedroom apartment in the 91214 ZIP code, for instance, at $42.69 per hour.

The Council will take up the matter again at its next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. at Glendale City Hall, 613 E. Broadway. The full ordinance is available on the City’s website at: https://www.ci.glendale.ca.us/government/council_packets/CC_HA_020519/CC_8c_020519.pdf

Also of note, the City Council approved the appointment of new fire chief Silvio Lazas. Lazas replaces Greg Fish who retired in September after more than 30 years of service. Deputy Chief in Glendale since late 2017, the City reports that Lazas “began his career in the fire service at the age of 14 as a fire explorer at the Grand Terrace Fire Station in San Bernardino County. At 18, Lazas joined the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and spent 22 years working in San Bernardino and Riverside, holding every rank in the CAL FIRE system, beginning as a firefighter I, promoting to firefighter II, engineer, captain, battalion chief, and eventually division chief.”

“I am humbled and honored to be chosen to lead the Glendale Fire Dept. Our organization is a world class one because of the dedicated men and women who work here. I will work tirelessly to uphold and build upon the high standards that have been set before me,” Lazas said about his pending appointment.