Columnists Opinion

Yes on Prop. 10 — affordability, accessibility, stability, dignity

By Kelvin Sauls

Guest Columnist

We live in an era in which corporate landlords and Wall Street speculators have been systematically buying up properties in areas like South Los Angeles, taking advantage of middle and low-income African Americans.

African Americans in Los Angeles have been struggling for decades to reach beyond the burdens society has placed on them — restrictions on where they can live, low-income jobs and sub-par educations. Many were forced to leave L.A. in the past decade, and a staggering 100,000 have left since the1990s.

Why? One reason is because rent is too damn high. Rents are skyrocketing statewide, and South L.A. is no exception. Yet, wages for nurses, teachers, laborers, cashiers and others don’t keep pace with the unaffordable cost of a simple apartment.

Rents in many neighborhoods are being hiked by $500 to $800 in a single stroke. No wonder the average cost of a South L.A. two-bedroom apartment today is $2,400 — jumping 50 percent in the last five years.

That is why Proposition 10 is on the California ballot in November. The state Legislature has failed to fix an antiquated law dating back 23 years that prohibits cities and counties from limiting big rent hikes. The Legislature’s failure has encouraged rent-gouging, forced displacement and a surge in homelessness among those evicted because they can’t afford the unpredictable and unfair rent hikes.

Because all politics are local, Prop. 10 gives cities and counties the power they once had to decide whether to limit rent hikes. Allowing cities and counties to craft local policies that directly affect residents such as transition-aged youth, young and working-class families and the elderly in South L.A. is not just a practical measure, it’s a moral imperative.

I view Prop. 10 as a kind of spiritual compass guiding us into the preservation of dignity and stability. Additionally, voting yes on Prop. 10 will move many families toward equity and affordability.

Moreover, Prop. 10 will advance our collective vision of a more just and fair society. It is a major tool available to address the housing affordability and accessibility crisis, and provide African-American renters greater stability. We must provide ways for as many people as possible to thrive and live productive and healthy lives in a community knit together by history, legacy and faith.

We as a community should embrace this tool now more than ever. A vote for Prop. 10 is a vote to sustain and enhance South L.A.’s social fabric that has connected us for decades. Prop. 10 continues that legacy and secures our destiny.

Today, an unregulated housing market, where rents can be raised at will, encourages the perilous gentrification beating at South L.A.’s door. This has forced families to live far apart, obligating parents to commute far to work and causing major heartache and undue stress for those who have been struggling for generations.

Many of our own have been handed a worse fate, ending up on the streets, homeless. In L.A. County, 39 percent of the homeless population is black, yet African Americans make up just 8 percent of the county’s population.

During the foreclosure crisis in 2008, South L.A. experienced more foreclosures than all but two other zip codes in L.A. Those former homeowners are now renting from the same Wall Street players who swindled them with predatory mortgages.

One of the biggest culprits in creating the nation’s worst housing affordability and homelessness crises is Blackstone Group’s Invitation Homes, led by CEO Stephen Schwarzman. Not surprisingly, this Wall Street speculator has dumped $4.2 million into the “No on Prop. 10” campaign coffers. They are the largest donor to the opposition campaign.

Blackstone, as the single largest renter of single-family homes in Los Angeles, wants to squeeze as much out of each rental home as possible.

Blackstone continues to prey upon the weak. According to the report, “Renting From Wall Street: Blackstone’s Invitation Homes in Los Angeles and Riverside, “When leasing properties, Blackstone’s Invitation Homes relies on rapid eviction warnings, sometimes issued even before rent is due.”

The report, issued by the “Homes for All” campaign of the nationwide Right To The City Alliance, goes on to explain that Blackstone’s goal is “to aggressively push for the highest occupancy rate possible and feed returns to its investors.”

According to the “Homes for All” report, 67 percent of residents living in Blackstone’s Invitation Homes in L.A. paid more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent, making it unaffordable. Those who pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent are considered “cost-burdened.”

This is why a long and growing list of African-American organizations and housing organizations run by black leaders, support Prop. 10. They include the National Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference-Greater Southern California, National Action Network-L.A., Institute of Black Work 21st Century, African-American Cultural Center, Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance and many others.

Together we can stop Wall Street speculators like Blackstone from pushing us out of our homes, neighborhoods and communities. If you are committed to make affordability, accessibility, stability and dignity possible, vote Yes on Prop. 10.

Kelvin Sauls is the former senior pastor at Holman United Methodist Church, a progressive, prophetic advocate for racial justice and economic equity, and the faith community organizer for the Yes on Prop. 10 Campaign.