A Los Angeles tenants advocacy group praised mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti in a report card this week, but said rival Wendy Greuel failed to stop developers from ousting renters in her east San Fernando Valley district.
The Coalition For Economic Survival, which works on issues such as protecting rent control, preserving low-cost housing and preventing evictions, cited Garcetti's work on ordinances such as one that blocks banks from evicting renters from foreclosed homes. The ordinance gave renters protections if their landlords defaulted on bank loans, a common occurrence during the recent real estate collapse.
"Garcetti clearly has a better record," said CES executive director Larry Gross. While the report card evaluated their performance, the nonprofit doesn't officially endorse political candidates.
Garcetti also helped create an affordable housing trust fund, Gross said, and authored a law strengthening lease agreements for tenants.
Neither Garcetti or Greuel have made renters rights a big issue in the race. At an housing forum earlier this year, the candidates talked about affordable housing, but said little on the topic of rents.
Los Angeles rents have increased, after adjusting for inflation, by nearly 30 percent over the past two decades, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Underscoring the financial balancing act faced by Angelenos, renter incomes have decreased by 6 percent during the same period.
Greuel worked at HUD earlier in her career and frequently touts her work on housing issues under Mayor Tom Bradley. But Gross' report said thousands of rent-controlled units in neighborhoods like Studio City and Sherman Oaks were lost during Greuel's time as a city councilwoman.
Developers seized upon the real estate boom and turned the rental units into condominiums across the city, hoping to cash in on rising condo prices. Greuel's district ranked second in the number of rent-controlled units lost as apartments were converted into condominiums, Gross said.
The City Council eventually sought to pass moratoriums to protect renters. But Greuel seemed hesitant to get involved and never led on the issue, Gross said, an assertion the mayoral candidate rejected at a Boyle Heights press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"I stepped up to the plate numerous times," Greuel said. "And said we need to protect the renters." She also said laws allowing condo conversions were in place at the time.
Gross said he was also worried that many business groups, including Realtors' groups, are backing Greuel in the race.
Raphael Bostic, director of USC's Bedrosian Center on Governance, was less critical of Greuel. "Both of them have been fine," said Bostic. "Both candidates understand the challenges ... but they need to make a dent in the problem."
With a decreasing share of federal dollars, the next mayor will have to come up with creative incentives to keep units affordable, Bostic said. Adding new apartment units doesn't help if similar units are lost in the process. More protections for rent-controlled units are also needed, he said.
Alan Dymond, president of the Studio City Residents Association, said the destruction of apartment units forced out elderly residents and changed the demographics of his neighborhood.
Both the condo conversion boom and SB 1818, a law allowing developers to build denser and taller units, impacted Studio City, he said.
"I go around to the shops and market, and a lot of the older people who live here, they're gone," Dymond said. "They can't afford to buy a condo."
"Wendy was aware of the problem," Dymond added, of the condo conversion issue. "I think she could have done more."
Feliciano Serrano, a doctor backing Greuel, launched a television advertisement this week accusing Garcetti of driving out Latinos by encouraging development in Hollywood.
Garcetti's office has disputed that claim.