Angered by sharp rent increases by a new owner, Amberwood Terrace apartment residents waged a protest against the nearly $600 monthly increase by convincing the new landlord to reduce by two thirds the proposed increase and pay moving costs for the South Pasadena tenants who couldn’t afford even the smaller rent hike.
The battle hasn’t been easy for tenants, and it may force the city to consider rent control to stem the spiraling cost of living in this city of 26,000 residents. Under the agreement between the tenants and the Amberwood South Pasadena Property Ownership LLC, the new landlord, the rent increase was dropped to $200 a month until June and residents who plan to move will receive $1,000 to $2,500 to help with relocation expenses.
Tenants Forced Out
“The tenants are being forced out by speculative development, by wealthy landlords coming in and flipping buildings,” said Los Angeles Tenants Union representative Walt Senterfitt of the rent increases. “If they’re coming in and not respecting community and investment in the people that we are, it’s not right.”
Rent increases statewide and now in South Pasadena often create a conflict between the landlord, tenants and city council. This controversy flared at a city council meeting earlier in November, which helped spark the current buyout agreement. Amberwood tenant Samantha Doorman led a protest of about 30 people with the hopes of convincing the council to impose a moratorium on rent. The protest drew emotional responses from the tenants who have lived in the apartment complex for many years. Both children and adults held up signs that read “housing is a human right,” “we need rent control” and “alquilar el control ahora,” which means “rent control now.”
Hernan and Kathleen Herrera are afraid they won’t able to physically support their three children if they are struggling to find a place to live. They are especially concerned they will not be there their daughter who is a staff sergeant at the Marine Corps, graduating college and getting married.
Concern About High Rents
“It’s almost like South Pasadena has said you’ve done all this but you’re not valued enough so we’re going to toss you aside like trash,” Kathleen Herrera said. “We’re by no means rich where we can afford to pay a 25, 26, 32 hundred dollars a month for rat boxes but we still have to raise our children and grandchildren.”
That number may be an exaggeration, but rent is still high. According to CBS News, the median U.S. rent is $1,231; an increase of $120 since the census in 2010. It’s a nationwide trend that affects South Pasadena, California and the rest of the US. And many, like the tenants in Amberwood, are unable to afford this increase.
Once inside the council chamber, tenants gave testimony to urge the city council to impose a moratorium on rent increases. Samantha Doorman who led the fight, was the tenth person to speak, and her frustration was audible as this has been her third visit to the council.
Why Not Rent Control?
“We just don’t know why you are not doing it [passing rent control],” Doorman said. “We want to know why you are not protecting us from displacement and homelessness.”
South Pasadena is a city of renters. The rental occupancy rate in the majority South Pasadena is roughly 50 percent or more, according to Policy Map. South Pasadena’s city council will keep that in mind when they decide on the future of rent control.
Members of the City Council stressed the complexity of the issue, including Councilwoman Dr. Marina Khubesrian, who joined a two-person ad hoc committee with Mayor Michael Cacciotti to find a mutual solution.
“This particular council is incredibly dedicated to complex issues and deals with them very effectively with very little resources,” Khubesrian said in response one resident’s accusation that complexity was a way to stall. “So the creation of the ad hoc committee is not an escape route for us, it actually commits us to quite a bit of work.”
Leon Khachooni, a representative from the Foothill Apartment Association, had a chance to speak on behalf of landlords. He said most of these rental agencies are small businesses. Older apartments like Amberwood are in constant need of maintenance, so they need to charge whatever they can get.
South Pasadena City Councilmember Diana Mahmud said there are multiple sides to the issue, sticking with Khubesrian argument of complexity. According to Mahmud, increased property taxes for landlords as a result of proposition 13, the fact that the apartment complex has been under market rates for a long time and years of ill maintenance have forced apartment manager Jerry Wise to impose higher rents.
“The issue of whether or not to consider inaction of a rent control or a rent stabilization ordinance is very, very complex,” Mahmud said. She wants the ad hoc committee to look at ordinances passed in Northern California and determine, “whether or not most rent control ordinances are imposed is based on submitting to the electorate or if it is something the city council on its own decides,” before any action is taken.
Furthermore, Mahmud said that rent control cannot be applied to one or two properties on their own, which makes it difficult for any action for tenants at Amberwood. The City of Oakland imposed a 90-day moratorium on rent increases for the entire city early in 2016. In May, the city of Santa Rosa imposed a moratorium on rent for 45 days. So, imposing rent control isn’t impossible but it may take longer than many tenants in South Pasadena want.
It was a small victory for tenants in South Pasadena to negotiate a lower rent increase, yet some residents have already moved out in search of less expensive places to live.