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April 4, 2012

West Hollywood City Councilmember's Proposal to Subsidize Landlords With Affordable Housing Funds Gets Slapped Down

By Larry Gross

West Hollywood Council Member John D'Amico's shocking proposal to raid the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which provides a resource to create desperately needed affordable housing, in order to subsidize landlords by financially helping them make repairs to their building was firmly rejected by his colleagues at West Hollywood's April 2 City Council Meeting.

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West Hollywood City Council Meeting - Photo by Richard Settle

West Hollywood Council Member John D'Amico's shocking proposal to raid the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which provides a resource to create desperately needed affordable housing, in order to subsidize landlords by financially helping them make repairs to their building was firmly rejected by his colleagues at West Hollywood's April 2 City Council Meeting.

After public testimony and a Council debate on the proposal, it was a little after midnight when D'Amico conceded stating, "I hear that using funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is pretty much not going to happen."

The proposal D'Amico was advancing asked that the City Attorney be directed to draft an amendment to the city's Municipal Code to no longer mandate developers to provide on-site inclusionary affordable housing units in their new developments. All they would be required to do is pay an in-lieu fee instead. It also

WeHo City Council Member John D'Amico's plan to subsidize landlords with affordable housing funds gets shot down.

asked for an amendment to the Municipal Code to allow the city's affordable housing funds to be used to assist landlords in upgrading their property and doing "green' renovations.

D'Amico had his share of supporters for the landlord subsidy program present who testified. They were mainly landlord and realtor organization representatives, individual landlords, homeowners, condo owners and the head of a Republican club. Not a surprise given that D'Amico got significant financial support for his election from the landlord group West Hollywood Concerned Citizens and the Greater Los Angeles Apartment Association.

Their testimony was symbolized by the outrageous statement from West Hollywood Transportation Commissioner Alan Bernstein who said, "I'm tired of landlord bashing. It's cheap and pseudo populist." He then stated, "Our rent stabilized housing is our affordable housing and we could legally means test," a position that has been consistently put forth by strident rent control opponents.

CES West Hollywood member Joe Praml denounced the proposal to give landlords affordable housing funds to fix up their building

On the other hand there was strong community opposition to the plan. CES West Hollywood activist Joe Praml, who has been a key person to the development of CES' Tenants' Rights Clinic, testified, "I'm voicing my opposition Council Member D'Amico's proposal to take funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and use it to fix up buildings that some landlords have allowed to become run down."

Praml added, "At our Clinic I've seen the dark underside of the tenant-landlord relationship.  It's my experience that landlords who allow their properties to run down likely are to be landlords pathologically opposed to our Rent Stabilization Ordinance, and who harass their tenants, refuse to make repairs, and try evicting one way or another their long term tenants under rent control so they can jack up rents with the vacancy. What's to stop these landlords from intensifying their efforts after their building gets spiffed up."

Former West Hollywood City Council Member Lindsey Horvath said, "To take money away from low income affordable housing to give it to property owners, it's not the right use of public funds."

West Hollywood Rent Stabilization Commissioner and former CES staff member Agassi Topchian warned, "This amendment is very dangerous to the city. We need this Affordable Housing Trust Fund to create affordable housing units."

West Hollywood Transportation Commission Chair Steve Wayland stated, "By giving landlords Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars to upgrade their existing housing stock means that when vacated the rents will be higher thanks to us providing them with funds to upgrade their units.

Then it was City Council Members turn to chime in.

City Council Member Abbe Land in her opposition to subsidizing landlords and changing the in-lieu fee law said, "There are some things in here that are very troubling to me."

City Council Member John Heilman stated, "I am adamantly opposed to using the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for this landlord improvement program."

City Council Member John Heilman strongly stated, "I am adamantly opposed to using the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for this landlord improvement program. I don't think that's the right use of those funds."

Mayor John Duran added that, "He was going to support the item to get the discussion going, but a hiccup would be the use of Affordable Housing Trust Funds to landlords if there was no benefit to the city. That could be problematic."

Finally, City Council Member Jeff Prang echoed, "I have some trepidation about using Affordable Housing Trust Funds to assist with upgrades."

It was at this point that D'Amico conceded in defeat of his landlord subsidy program, but did attempt one last ditch effort to get support for directing the City Attorney to draft an amendment to the  Municipal Code to amend the on-site affordable housing requirements and allow for in-lieu fee collection to be paid into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for mixed-use developments to satisfy his anti-density homeowner/condo owner supporters.

Sierra Bonita Apts, 42 units of low income mixed-use housing with environmentally sound green features, built by West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation that uses Affordable Housing Trust Funds.

Council Member Prang responded by proposing to rather direct staff to take all the suggestions that were discussed, such as finding alternative ways to upgrade and green existing housing, increasing in-lieu fees to developers (which CES acutally does support) and seeking additional affordable housing funding sources, and reporting back.

It was this direction that ended up receiving an unanimous Council vote.



Authors Website: http://www.cesinaction.org/

Authors Bio:

Larry Gross is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES). He has been with CES for 42 years, since its inception in 1973.

CES is a grassroots, multi-racial, multi-ethnic tenants' rights organization serving low and moderate income renters throughout the greater Los Angeles area. CES is committed to organizing tenants to fight to ensure tenants' rights and preserve affordable housing.

Among CES' impressive track record of empowering tenants, securing concrete tenants' rights victories & new laws, and achieving institutional change include leading campaigns to win rent control in the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood. CES also led the effort to incorporate the City of West Hollywood and elected CES tenant leaders to the City Council.

Larry was a member of the Los Angeles City Housing Crisis Task Force and served as the chair of its State of Existing Affordable Housing Sub-committee.

He was appointed by the Mayor and Chairperson of the L.A. City Council Housing and Community Development Committee to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Study of the Economic Impact of Major Rehabilitation Evictions.

Larry was a member of L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti's Slum Housing Task Force was an appointee to the City Rent Stabilization Ordinance Study Oversight Committee by the L.A. City Council.

He serves on the Board of Directors of the ACLU/Southern California, Tenants Together and the Healthy Homes Collaborative.

In 2014, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Larry to the LA Board of Animal Services Commission. In July 2015 he was elected Board Vice President.

In January 2012, Larry was appointed by the California Public Utilities Commission to its Low Income Oversight Board.


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