Helping families keep their homes in Los Angeles

The City of Los Angeles hoped that residents would use new informational booklets on the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, but they couldn’t have predicted just how much of a sleeper publishing hit they had on their hands: In 10 weeks alone last summer, the booklets were downloaded approximately 10,000 times from the city’s website. Plus, the housing department now jokes that “they wish they could charge for the hardcopies because they’re flying off the shelves,” said Amanda Daflos, director of Los Angeles’ Innovation Team (i-team), which hatched the idea to put together the new materials. Not bad for a document about a regulation created in 1978.

Although city officials didn’t guess how well the community would respond, they were well aware of the need for information — the Rent Stabilization Ordinance covers more than 70 percent of the rental properties in Los Angeles and helps renters stay in their homes by protecting residents from excessive annual rent increases and spelling out the 14 legal reasons that owners can evict tenants.

Most residents were unaware of their rights — and that the ordinance existed at all. Before launching the campaign, the i-team found that up to 60 percent of those covered didn’t know about the rule. This lack of knowledge left renters vulnerable to displacement and led landlords to potentially abuse a regulation they might not have even known about.

In response, Los Angeles’ i-team, which is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, collaborated with community partners to create the Home for Renters campaign to build awareness. The booklets, which aim to make information about the ordinance easy to understand and are available in multiple languages, are just one piece of “Home for Renters.” Last summer, information about the ordinance was placed at all subway stations, on over 1,000 buses and 100 billboards, and materials were left at more than 3,000 households. To make sure the campaign and materials would be successful, the i-team held discussions and bilingual focus groups with at-risk residents and received feedback on the campaign design through conversations with both landlords and renters.

“Working with Bloomberg Philanthropies has been our great pleasure,” Daflos said. “It’s helped us to think through and drive outcomes with, and for, residents with long-term sustainability and impact in mind.”

As demand for the Home for Renters booklets demonstrates, the campaign has resonated with the community. “This initiative has taken our RSO Awareness efforts to a whole new level, one not achieved since the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance was adopted,” said Anna Ortega, director of Rent Stabilization.

The booklet itself has been so successful that the City will release a second edition, both in print and online: “We have modified it based on some of things we learned. We have also made some tweaks,” said Daflos. “we’re touching upon some things that were creating fear in communities — for example, we’re including information about coverage for undocumented immigrants and what to do when offered cash to leave a building.”