Council Votes to Take Step Toward Policy to Help Address Affordable Housing Crisis

LOS ANGELES (September 18, 2019) – The Los Angeles City Council voted today to advance a proposal that would charge a fee to landlords who are driving up the cost of housing in Los Angeles by keeping habitable housing units empty for investment purposes.

In a unanimous vote, the city council acted on legislation introduced by Councilmember Mike Bonin and his colleagues Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Paul Koretz and David Ryu, to formally instruct the Housing and Community Investment Department to work with the City Attorney to report to the council with options for creating a charge for landlords who keep housing units empty.

“Empty home penalties encourage landlords to make units more affordable, and they help raise needed funds to create more affordable housing,” Bonin said. “This is an important tool for addressing the affordable housing crisis in our neighborhoods, and it is a step we desperately need to take.”

Vacancy has become especially problematic in Los Angeles as luxury apartments are built and sold to investors – usually who live far from LA – and then kept off the market for investment purposes. Bonin’s legislation asks the Housing Department to focus part of the requested report on properties that are intentionally left vacant by absentee owners solely for investment purposes.

“We must make it clear that housing is for people, not investment portfolios,” Ryu added. “The U.S. Census estimates that we have over 110,000 vacant units of housing in the City of Los Angeles, at a time when we are facing a crisis of homelessness and record shortage of affordable housing. I’m proud of my Council colleagues for standing with us on this issue, and for moving forward on bringing more housing to the market.”

“Housing is a human right and we have a responsibility to make sure landlords are filling every available housing unit,” Bonin said. “I am enormously grateful for the work of dedicated community activists who have helped bring this idea forward.”

An unlikely coalition of both housing affordability advocates and business interests have rallied around the proposal, and groups that are usually found on opposing sides of housing debates have united in support for Bonin’s proposal. At a recent Housing Committee hearing on the motion, as well as at today’s Council meeting, representatives from a broad range of perspectives testified in support of the proposal, including: Coalition for Economic Survival, Abundant Housing, People Organized for Westside Renewal (P.O.W.E.R.), Ground Game LA, the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, the Central City Association, Unite HERE Local 11, and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

Vacancy penalties already exist in cities like Oakland, Washington DC, and Vancouver, B.C., and voters San Francisco are likely to soon consider a similar measure.

Once complete, the report will be heard by the city council, which will then decide whether or not to move forward with putting a ballot measure before voters in November 2020.

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