Recently, while in Los Angeles to build my comedy brand, I had a free afternoon for one of my for-real, no-kidding favorite activities: sitting through a contentious legislative hearing about land use and/or homelessness …
Assemblymember David Chiu, chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, is holding committee hearings around the state about the housing crisis. Panelists discussed the link between affordable housing and homelessness, funding sources for affordable housing and obstacles to construction.
One lawyer for developers argued that the California Environmental Quality Act is the single biggest threat to housing construction. Apparently in L.A., there is a problem of pure CEQA shakedown lawsuits by fake community groups to demand payoffs. In the Bay Area, it’s more common that actual constituencies suddenly discover a temporary passion for the fate of migratory birds using CEQA to achieve some other objective.
The United Way presented an ambitious program to end homelessness, involving more than “200 cross-sector partners,” which creates a statistical certainty that some of those partners are dummies. They also said, “For every $100 rent goes up, homelessness goes up 15 percent in urban and 39 percent in suburban areas.”
The hearing was packed with both tenant activists and landlords. Neither was as well organized as in San Francisco. Tenant advocates had trouble agreeing on when to snap and when to clap. The landlords adorably called themselves “housing providers” to instill us with a sense their virtue, which dissipated the moment they spoke. Some landlords groused that city bureaucrats impede their lifelong dream of running slums by requiring them to keep rental properties habitable. One landlord in camouflage pants and a “Trump-Pence” shirt denounced “communists” for taking his “freedom and giving it to illegals and ISIS.”
Everyone’s raison d’guerre was Assembly Bill 1506, introduced by assemblymembers Chiu, Bonta and Bloom. AB 1506 repeals the 1995 Costa-Hawkins law limiting local governments’ ability to pass rent control. Costa-Hawkins is why rent control only applies to older buildings, doesn’t cover condos or single-family homes and prohibits vacancy control.
Some present advanced the familiar contention that the market could, would and should solve the affordability crisis if it were unleashed to build whatever housing it wants. Others sought a way to fund large-scale affordable housing production.
According to the panelists, California’s massive homelessness problem is caused by the housing crisis. No amount of market-rate housing will reduce homelessness. Even though market-rate housing may be one component of a long-term solution, it is does not solve displacement and evictions happening now. Only expanding rent control, eviction protections and enforcing housing codes do.
Thanks to the new book, “Evicted,” by sociologist Matthew Desmond, we now know eviction is a cause of poverty, rather than a symptom of it. American civil law allows you free exercise of your liberties as long as you don’t hurt others. So why should landlords be permitted to wield their property rights in a manner that causes poverty in others?
During public comment, I said:
“My name is Nato Green, and I am a landlord. I represent Small Property Owners for Reasonable Controls, SPORC. On behalf of mom-and-pop landlords, 100 percent of us small landlords support repealing Costa-Hawkins and expanding rent control to cover all property in the state. We did not cause the housing crisis, so we should not be allowed to profit from it. Nobody moved to California because of its great landlords. We didn’t make California desirable. It was the very tenants we seek to gouge who did …
Being a landlord is easy. If you can’t make a decent living as a landlord without destroying people’s lives, maybe you’re just not good at being a landlord, and you should find another line of work. It is un-American to reward our lazy entrepreneurship. We, landlords, have too many rights and we demand that politicians take some of them away, for the greater good.”
One gentleman jumped up and yelled at me, “Go back to Cuba!” Which I plan to.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer. See him live at the Punch Line on Monday, April 10, for Stand-up for Choice, a comedy benefit for NARAL pro-choice America.