Reps. Waters, Bass Call for an End to the Ellis Act and an End to Mass Evictions
LOS ANGELES -- Yesterday, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and her fellow California Delegation Democrat colleague, Karen Bass, joined in sending a letter to the California State Senate President pro Tempore, Kevin de Leon and the Speaker of the California Assembly, Toni Atkins, urging them to support legislation that will impose a moratorium on the Ellis Act, a California law that is increasingly being abused to evict hundreds of veterans, elderly persons, and families.
Currently, the whole country is in the midst of a rental housing crisis, which is particularly severe in Los Angeles and California and is putting undue pressure on family budgets. More than 21% of Los Angeles families are being forced to spend more than half of their income on rent. Among extremely low income households in L.A., that figure jumps to 80%. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition that Los Angeles has a deficit of 370,860 units that are both affordable and available to its residents. Yet, in the midst of this crisis, a dated law, the Ellis Act, is being used to further deplete availability of affordable rental housing in Los Angeles.
Originally, the Ellis Act was enacted to protect small time landlords who had been in the rental housing business for several years and who sought to retire. Currently, the Ellis Act is being abused to convert affordable rental housing into high-priced luxury housing developments. This represents an unforeseen use of the law and its original intent, and its negative impact cannot be understated.
Under the Ellis Act, in 2014, property owners evicted tenants from 725 units, a significant increase from 308 units the previous year. Similar trends are occurring in San Francisco as well.
As Ranking Member of the Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal public and private housing, Congresswoman Waters has recognized that the increasing evictions leave tenants at risk of homelessness, or subject to higher rents in an already deficient, yet costly rental market. This, in turn, adds pressure on the federal housing programs which are already struggling to meet the existing need.
As the Congresswomen explained in the letter, in these times of austerity when there is little hope for a substantial increase in federal funding towards affordable housing, the least we can do is preserve the units of affordable rental housing that are currently available. We don’t need more luxury condominiums in Los Angeles; we need more affordable rental housing, especially for our poorest families.
The full text of the letter can be seen below:
August 5, 2015
Dear President pro Tempore de León & Speaker Atkins,
We write to bring your attention to the growing problem of rental housing conversions and resulting massive tenant displacement that is exacerbating the severe rental housing crisis in California, and particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco. As you may be aware, the Ellis Act is increasingly being abused by speculators to buy up rental properties under rent control and convert them into condominiums or other types of developments, resulting in mass evictions of tenants, many of whom are elderly residents and many who are subsequently at risk of homelessness. In the midst of one of the worst rental housing crises in California’s history, this depletion of affordable rental housing and tenant displacement is simply unacceptable. We are advocating for a moratorium on the Ellis Act, and we ask that you join our efforts by sponsoring legislation to that effect.
As the legislative history makes clear, the Ellis Act was originally seen as protection for small time landlords who had been in the rental housing business for several years and who sought to retire. The way that the Ellis Act is currently being abused to convert affordable rental housing into high-priced luxury housing is an unforeseen use of the law and its original intent. And the consequences of this abuse are devastating. In Los Angeles alone, property owners evicted tenants from 725 units under the Ellis Act in 2014, which is a significant increase from 308 units in the previous year. Similar trends are well-documented in San Francisco with Ellis Act evictions sharply rising from 109 in 2012 to 252 in 2013.
These households are being pushed out of their homes into a rental housing market that leaves lower income tenants with few options. In the Los Angeles metro area, 30 percent of households that rent are “severely cost burdened,” meaning that they spend at least half of their income on housing. Among extremely low income households (ELI) in Los Angeles, that figure jumps to 80 percent. In California overall, 21 percent of renter households are considered ELI, and 80 percent of these households are severely cost burdened. In fact, California currently has a deficit of 981,745 rental units that are both affordable and available to ELI households, which is the greatest deficit compared to all other states. Among metropolitan areas, Los Angeles tops the list with a deficit of 370,860 units.
With similar trends occurring throughout this country, the lack of affordable rental units in the private sector is putting added pressure on federal housing programs, which are already struggling to meet the existing need. We simply cannot afford to be depleting our limited stock of affordable rental housing at this time. We don’t need more luxury condominiums; we need more affordable rental housing units, especially for our poorest California households. Unfortunately, under tight budget constraints, neither the state nor the federal government has demonstrated that it has the political willpower to invest heavily in the creation of new affordable housing units at this time. The least that we can do in this time of great need is to do our best to protect our existing affordable housing stock.
For these reasons, we sincerely hope that you will support our efforts to protect tenants and to preserve our affordable housing stock by sponsoring legislation that will impose a moratorium on the Ellis Act. We are confident that landlords will remain adequately protected in having the option to exit the rental market by simply selling their property to another owner who will maintain it as a rental property. It is high time that we seriously reconsider the merits of this law in light of the havoc it has wreaked in our cities.
* * *
1 Larry Gross, “L.A.’s Eviction Game,” The Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2015.
2 Tenants Together & the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, “The Speculator Loophole: Ellis Act Evictions in San Francisco,” April 2, 2014.
3 National Housing Conference & Center for Housing Policy, “Housing Affordability Challenges in the Los Angeles Metro Area,” Housing Landscape 2014.
4 Extremely low income households are those with income at or below 30 percent of area median income.
6 National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2015 State Housing Profiles
7 National Low Income Housing Coalition, Housing Spotlight, Vol. 5, Issue 1, March 2015