The Truth About Measure S And L.A.’s Housing Crisis

A building under construction in L.A.’s Arts District

There is a ton of misinformation swirling around about Measure S, a controversial initiative on L.A.’s March 7 ballot. Some Measure S opponents, including the downtown power players and politicians who benefit from L.A.’s pay-for-play planning scheme, have slandered Measure S supporters, questioned our motives, called us “NIMBYs,” and falsely linked us with Donald Trump. They will stop at nothing to distract voters from City Hall’s scandals and shenanigans.

The manipulative messaging employed by the real estate billionaires behind the opposition to Measure S has been working. When I signed my name to the ballot argument in favor of Measure S, many of my friends were bewildered―a few were even shocked and horrified―that I, a housing attorney, would support what they thought was a “housing ban.”

For nearly a decade, I have battled on the front lines of L.A.’s never-ending housing crisis, defending tenants against evictions in L.A.’s unlawful detainer courts. Fighting slumlords and developers is my life’s work. I’m taking time out of this work to tell my friends and voters across L.A. the truth about Measure S.

L.A. Tenants Union Members Protesting Mass Evictions

I support Measure S because I am a tenant. I belong to the Los Angeles Tenants Union, a network of community organizers standing up for each other against abusive landlords and mass evictions. For decades, we tenants have been low-hanging fruit for developers and speculators in their relentless drive to profit from wild swings in L.A.’s housing market. Many of us come from hard-working families who lack the time and resources to fight for our homes by ourselves. Many of us are undocumented and thus fear the repercussions of standing up for our rights. The L.A. Tenants Union supports Measure S because we are tired of losing our homes to the developers and speculators in bed with City Hall.

I support Measure S because it will stem the tide of displacement that threatens my clients, my neighbors, and tenants across Los Angeles with the loss of their homes. Specifically, Measure S will halt attempts to demolish and redevelop the historic Wyvernwood Garden Apartments in Boyle Heights. This project will demolish 1,200 rent-controlled apartments from an already-dwindling supply and replace them with 4,400 luxury units.

1,200 rent-stabilized apartments in Boyle Heights are threatened with demolition.

As usual, there is no plan to rehouse the Wyvernwood’s tenants in the proposed new property. That’s because the speculators behind this project want to gentrify Boyle Heights. That will increase their property values. The modest-income tenants who live there now are obstacles to that gentrification.

A new small-lot subdivision in Los Angeles. Construction of these homes often displaces long-term residents of rent-stabilized apartments.

The Wyvernwood project is just one giant example of the displacement that is tearing L.A.’s neighborhoods apart. At any given time, there are several proposed demolitions of small rent-stabilized apartment complexes before the City that ask for approvals of zone changes and general plan amendments so that mixed-use projects and small-lot subdivisions can be built.

This pipeline of greed and corruption leads directly to the loss of rent-stabilized housing across Los Angeles. As such, this pipeline also leads directly to a plague of housing insecurity and homelessness. This plague is not just an economic crisis; it is a public health disaster — paid for by taxpayers — and a moral crisis that challenges Los Angeles to do better for its most vulnerable citizens.

Why The Coalition Against Measure S Must Be Stopped

My friends who are wondering why I support Measure S are still bewildered, however, that I would support this initiative while so many progressive organizations, including organized labor, have committed themselves to opposing it.

The reason so many progressive organizations are opposed to Measure S is that a coalition has formed between L.A.’s building and trade unions and L.A.’s real estate developers. This coalition formed last year to support Measure JJJ (also known as “Build Better L.A.”). It’s no secret why building and trade unions want development in L.A. to continue unchecked. More construction means more construction jobs.

Organized labor has deep roots in progressive politics, so it is not surprising that most progressive organizations have jumped on board the pro-development train. In the process, L.A.’s tenants have been left at the station. As usual, tenants rarely have a seat at the table.

And when tenants do get to sit down with City leadership, the labor-developer coalition fights us. Last week, our membership met with L.A.’s Housing and Community Development Agency (HCID) to present grievances related to HCID’s forced relocation of tenants from buildings undergoing renovations. Often, landlords “relocate” these tenants to run-down residential hotels, addresses that are already occupied, neighborhoods far removed from their current residences, and even addresses that don’t exist. These grievances had nothing to do with Measure S. But Measure S opponents came out and protested us anyway.

This protest displays the true colors of the labor-development coalition that opposes Measure S. This is a coalition that claims to care about housing. But the truth is that it couldn’t care less about the real issues facing L.A.’s tenants.

How will we find out whose side the labor-development coalition is on? Two weeks ago, Assemblymembers Richard Bloom and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) introduced AB 1506, which would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act and allow cities to bring the luxury condos popping up all over the Southland under rent control for the first time.

The labor-development coalition has the opportunity to demand repeal of Costa-Hawkins right now, but this “progressive” coalition that has financed the opposition to Measure S remains silent. When the time comes to support or oppose this measure, we know what side real estate developers will be on. They will claim that expanding rent control will stifle development.

Will L.A.’s building and trades unions join its new developer allies in opposing Costa-Hawkins repeal so they can keep construction jobs afloat? Will unions’ allies in the progressive community join them in throwing L.A.’s tenants under the bus?

But Nonprofit Developers Who Build Affordable Housing Also Oppose Measure S…

Other well-meaning opponents of Measure S point to its requirement that projects approved during the two-year moratorium consist solely of affordable units. The “100% affordable” requirement in Measure S, they say, will stop projects supposedly consisting of up to 25% affordable units that might be greenlit under recently-passed Measure JJJ. But projects that are 25% affordable are 75% unaffordable. Los Angeles does not need any more unaffordable housing.

Measure S’s opponents in City Hall are more cynical. In an attempt to distract voters from focusing on their misdeeds, they falsely claim that Measure S’s two year moratorium on height and density zone changes might stop the city from using Measure HHH funds to build permanent supportive housing for homeless Angelenos. The truth is that Measure S makes Measure HHH better and more accountable. Measure S’s moratorium does not apply to plan-compliant projects that consist only of affordable units. Measure HHH funds should never be used to subsidize projects with any market-rate housing. If any Measure HHH money is used to support projects with non-rent-stabilized, market-rate housing, that is a betrayal of the people who voted overwhelmingly in favor of compassion for homeless people.

Developers opposed to Measure S disagree; they want free rein to build as much market-rate housing as they like without having to consider their impacts on transit, parking, schools, and open space. They argue that the luxury condos they want to build will add to the housing supply, thus causing rents to drop due to the “law of supply and demand.” But does anybody really believe that smart developers want to build housing that will eventually drop in value because of a glut of housing?

The Truth About L.A.’s Housing Crisis

Those who think they can solve the housing crisis by hoping that the invisible hand of the free market will reduce rents are missing the point of the housing crisis. The rent being too high is not the point of the housing crisis. Displacement, housing insecurity, overcrowding, homelessness, and their concomitant effects on public health: that’s the housing crisis. 70,000 evictions every year in L.A. County alone: that’s the housing crisis. The housing crisis is rental housing that is unstable, unsafe, and unsanitary. The housing crisis is the for-profit displacement of long-term Angeleno tenants.

The truth is that the housing crisis was going on long before the rent got too high. The truth is that the housing crisis has been going on since before the residents of Bunker Hill got evicted to make way for the downtown skyline. The truth is that the housing crisis has been going on since before the residents of Chavez Ravine got evicted to make way for Dodger Stadium. The truth is that the housing crisis is business-as-usual for developers and their paid employees on L.A.’s City Council.

In the voting booth on March 7, remember that the housing crisis isn’t a crisis at all in City Hall. Ignore city politicians’ attempts to distract you from their malfeasance. Remember that the housing crisis isn’t a crisis at all for the developers trying to raze and remake Los Angeles. Ignore their attempts to scare you into letting them do it. Instead, listen to your neighbors who want good government; listen to your neighbors who want a voice in planning the future of L.A.; listen to your neighbors who just want to stay in their homes. Vote Yes on S.