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Laura Pitter is the deputy U.S. director at Human Rights Watch. Pete White is founder and co-executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). This column was produced by Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.
Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure in November to address the city’s housing crisis, which has left tens of thousands of people with no place to live, many others priced out of the area, and prompted recently elected mayor, Karen Bass, to declare a state of emergency. The measure, known as United to House LA, or ULA, is designed to provide both immediate protections to vulnerable tenants and to fund longer-term housing solutions.
A similar housing crisis rages across the country, with reports indicating that even places that used to be affordable no longer are. In Los Angeles, ULA’s rollout and implementation could become a model for addressing homelessness in other cities and states.
Before Los Angeles enacted an eviction moratorium and rent freeze in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of evictions were filed each day. With these protections most likely expiring in 2023, this could be the reality again for thousands of households across the city.
Nationwide, many are already living this reality. Communities across the country are facing rising rents, housing shortages and eviction rates approaching or even surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
But in Los Angeles, ULA’s passage raises hope of preventing this looming crisis for people at risk of losing their homes by instituting new tenant protections, directly assisting vulnerable people and funding new affordable housing. Eviction is among the leading causes of homelessness across the country. Currently, few tenants in eviction proceedings are represented by a lawyer, reducing their ability to raise defenses or assert their rights. The ballot initiative works to solve this problem by dedicating funding to legal services for low-income households facing eviction.
The measure will also help to prevent eviction cases from being brought in the first place by providing short-term rental assistance to vulnerable households, including rent-burdened older people and people living with disabilities, as well as other low-income households that fall behind on rent due to economic shocks.
Over the longer term, the initiative is estimated to add more than 26,000 new affordable homes over the next 10 years. Funded by a 4 to 5.5 percent tax on the sale of property worth more than $5 million, it will begin to address the dire shortage of affordable homes for the lowest-income households.
The new housing that the initiative plans to create also avoids the common shortcomings of other housing programs by guaranteeing permanent affordability for low-income households. The affordability protections of many current housing subsidy programs are allowed to expire after a set period. In Los Angeles alone, about 6,000 homes will lose their affordability restrictions by 2026, giving landlords the option of raising rents and putting tenants at risk of displacement.
Tenant protection, rental assistance, and more permanently affordable housing all address the root causes of homelessness. This holistic approach is a break from policies that harm those who already bear the brunt of the lack of affordable homes.
In approving the measure, voters made the choice to create fairer cities where everyone, regardless of income, can have a place to call home, a choice that communities across the country should mimic.