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LA Observed

Saturday February 23, 2013

Condomania and the Campaign

By Bill Boyarsky, Saturday, February 23, 2013

In the months before the recession struck, I spent a lot of time covering "condomania," an L.A. affliction marked by conversion of affordable apartment houses into expensive condos. Many tenants, facing eviction, told me their stories. Then the economy collapsed and the condo developers disappeared, along with their plans to tear down the apartments.

Now they've returned. Construction of transit stations has focused developers back to the job of turning lower rent apartment houses into high-end rentals and condos, according to tenant advocate Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition For Economic Survival. He told me it's happening in Hollywood, Koreatown, Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Valley Village. "And on the Gold Line into East L.A. we will see gentrification expanding," he said, as well as along the Expo Line from downtown into West L.A. and eventually Santa Monica.

Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of a low-income family's pay. Gross said 58 percent of L.A. renters are paying more than 30 percent and a third are paying about 50 percent.

Yet the fate of tenants has not been a major issue in the election for mayor. That is until recently when the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, the city's major landlord group, announced its support for candidates Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilwoman Jan Perry.

It's not known whether this will help or hurt the recipients. As the L.A. Times' Michael Finnegan wrote, "landlord endorsements are not entirely a badge of honor in a city where about 60 percent of the housing is occupied by tenants."

Greuel said it was a sign of her support among business and labor. But tenant advocate Gross said the apartment house owners "have fought us for years, they have fought rent control and they are coalescing behind Wendy Greuel. Tenants need to know this when they go to the ballot box."

He was kinder to City Councilman Eric Garcetti. Garcetti, Gross said, "has a mixed record. He hasn't been with us on every issue, such as supporting a rent freeze. He voted against it. But on the other hand, he has provided leadership and support on some other key issues."

Actually, Gross' constituency of low income and middle-income renters have few, if any friends in city hall. If they had an enemies' list it should start with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and include the city council and high-level building and planning bureaucrats. The big campaign-contributing construction unions and developers who have great power in city hall have always favored condo conversion. Before the recession, Mayor Villaraigosa, beaming at all the construction, said the crane-a construction crane-should be the city's official bird.

The council and the mayor support big construction around transit stops. As Dakota Smith noted in the Daily News, Villaraigosa, Perry, Garcetti and Greuel all favor two 40-plus story residential and commercial towers in Hollywood near the Metro station.

The trouble with these developments is that they sharply increase the value of buildings for many blocks around the station, totally changing neighborhoods and driving out low-rent dwellings.

Gross and the Coalition For Economic Survival want to keep these neighborhoods as they are, many heavily rent controlled and affordable. They are asking the candidates to "stand behind any attempt to weaken rent control" and to preserve rent-controlled buildings or at least require developers to replace the housing lost when they are leveled.

Good luck. With condomania taking hold, there's not much chance of the tenants' platform being adopted.

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