Lead Story West Edition

Waters examines housing issues at community forum

INGLEWOOD — Telling her constituents to “take over your destiny,” U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters conducted a community forum on housing June 22 at Inglewood High School.

“We cannot have vacant units when people are sleeping on the ground,” said Waters, who represents California’s 43rd Congressional District, which includes Inglewood, Lennox, Hawthorne and Torrance.

Hundreds of district residents attended the forum, which included a panel discussion on a broad range of housing related topics for more than two hours, including gentrification, the effectiveness of the proposed rent control ordinance in Inglewood, affordable housing and homelessness.

Waters ran the panel like it was a congressional hearing. 

She was interested in hearing from community members, community activists and sometimes even grilling local officials in her district.

“Thirty days from now, rents in Inglewood can’t be raised more than 5% in a 12-month period,” said Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. “There will be just cause evictions, you have to have a cause, not paying your rent, criminality, creating a nuisance. There has to be a documentable cause.”

However, there are two exceptions to the new rules. Property owners will be allowed to raise rent 8% a year if they can prove their current rent is below 80% of Inglewood’s current market rental rate, which is about $1,770 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

Once the monthly rent reaches 81% of market value, the property owners will fall back to the 5% cap.

Property owners also will be allowed to raise rent 8% annually for two years if they can prove the need to amortize $10,000 or more in major building repairs like a new roof or capital improvements. Property owners will be eligible to do this once every five years. 

The idea of rent control has been an issue since 2015, when it was announced that the Rams would move back to Southern California from St. Louis and would build a multi-billion dollar Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park in Inglewood. Subsequent discussions of the L.A. Clippers building an adjacent Clippers Arena has not only accelerated economic development but critics believe it has also spiked property values and rental costs.

“There are a lot of people who are falling through the cracks,” said Derek Steele, an Inglewood resident who is a member of the Uplift Inglewood Coalition. Steele, who gave up being an engineer at Northrop Grumman for an operations position at the Social Justice Learning Institute, said rent stabilization is a win for Inglewood but countless people have already had to move away from the city in the last few years due to rising rents. 

The forum was also a fact-finding mission for Waters as she serves as the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal housing agencies. 

Waters said she introduced House Resolution 1856, which would provide $13.27 billion in emergency funding to end homelessness in America.

“Homelessness is a byproduct of racism in America,” said Teresa DeCrescenzo, the director of social services at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood.

DeCrescenzo said in her line of work, “homlessness, addiction and mental illness” are all interconnected, indirectly forcing Centinela Hospital to house homeless, who end up staying at the hospital for three to five days before they end up back on the streets.

“[The] only real solution is more affordable housing,” said Malcolm Bennett, the founder of the Minority Apartment Owners Association. Bennett, who is also a realtor, was a visible presence at recent Inglewood City Council meetings, helping shape Inglewood’s proposed 5% rent cap via rent stabilization.

“We need to build more affordable housing but it needs to be truly affordable,” said Damien Goodmon, the founder and executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. 

To that idea, panelists suggested local leaders create an environment that will cultivate more community-based developers to build more affordable and low-income housing. 

Meanwhile, gentrification was another important topic, specifically related to foreclosures and reverse mortgages that critics say target African-American homeowners.

“Don’t sell your house. Don’t lose your house,” said Lori Gay, who serves as the president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of Los Angeles County.

Gay told community members, the majority who were African-American and Hispanic, that it is important they keep their homes in the family, creating generational wealth and as a way to prevent gentrification from changing the fabric and cultural significance of Inglewood and Lennox.

Waters told her constituents that she alone can’t take on this fight. She said she convened the forum to inspire community members to become their own housing advocates.