After an intense meeting where more than 120 people spoke, the Culver City Council voted after 1:00 am to put in place a temporary rent freeze for 12 months. Effective June 24, 2019, the passionately debated move drew landlords, renters, homeowners, and community activists from all parts of the city. The motion passed on a four to one vote, with Goran Eriksson as the dissenting member.
With an almost incalculable number of factors, the housing crisis touches everyone. The largest number of speakers seemed to fall into the category of “mom and pop” landlords; individuals and families, who pleaded that they were not gouging their tenants, that a freeze would make it to challenging to invest or keep up properties, and felt like an undeserved punishment.
The other largest group were the organized renters; the Protect Culver City Renters wore red to signify their solidarity, and many spoke of rent being increased as a penalty for asking for repairs or maintenance to a unit, along with eviction notices being served in response to public activism.
Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells began the Action Item with a call for civility, saying “We are all here to listen to each other, so let us listen respectfully. We need to hear what everyone has to say, and even if we don’t agree – and we know, we won’t all agree – we need to be respectful.”
For a meeting where emotions ran so high, it was a calm and orderly process, with transgressions mostly limited to people who continued to speak after their two minutes was up, and the bell had rung.
Council member Daniel Lee, as a renter, did not have to recuse himself, per advice from the city staff, nor did Council member Thomas Small, as a landlord who rents a single unit on his property.
Numbers from the Culver City Committee on Homelessness and the Housing Department showed a shocking increase in homelessness, including homeless children.
As with any widely attended and deeply discussed action item, many came to tell their own personal stories; property owners spoke about keeping the rent below market rate, about making provisions for long term tenants, about struggling to break even.
Renters talked about whimsical rent increases for 30% or more, of vindictive landlords and property managers, of the stressful insecurity of being at the mercy of market forces, personal foibles and what seems to be a complete lack of recourse.
Nancy Barba, who took to the podium after midnight, said “The very fabric of our community is at stake. ”
The motion voted on provided for a 3% cap on further rent increases (post freeze), a ‘just cause’ eviction requirement, and relocation assistance of 3 months rent and a thousand dollars in the event of a no-fault eviction.
Council member Alex Fisch also called for a new ombudsman position to make sure tenants and landlords are properly informed about all the provisions of the freeze.
The motion passed with the focus that the period of the freeze would be used for deep research into helping the city create systemic changes that would be able to benefit everyone, owners and renters alike.