CUDAHY, Calif. — The Cudahy City Council passed two ordinances at its Tuesday, May 30, special meeting. One ordinance focused on rent stabilization (rent control) limiting the annual rent increase with no exemptions; it passed on a vote of 3-1, with one abstention. The second ordinance focused on tenant protections, and passed unanimously. Although both motions passed, rent stabilization and tenant protections will not officially be in place until they are approved at a second reading scheduled for June 6, a standard practice for city councils in small cities.
The new rent control ordinance limits rent increases to 3% (or inflation, whichever is lower), once every 12 months. It applies to residential units within the city, unless exempt by state or federal laws, and requires landlords to register their rental units. However, the new law will allow landlords to pass up to 50% of eligible improvements costs onto tenants but not exceed 5% of tenant’s rent. The tenant protections ordinance includes relocation assistance, as well as protections from retaliatory evictions and landlord harassment.
Cudahy is a small city in southeast LA County covering 1.18 square miles. Approximately 85% of households in Cudahy are renters; about 56% of renting households are rent burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income on rent, according to Cudahy’s own housing element, which is a document all cities are required to create that analyzes housing needs. Residents have been showing up in crowds to city council meetings and making public comments in favor of rent control and tenant protections.
“No se están negando a pagar la renta solo que a veces no pueden,” said resident Veronica Cervantes. [Translation: “They are not refusing to pay rent they just can’t sometimes.”]
Cervantes has lived in an 11-unit apartment complex in Cudahy for about five years. While living there, her husband has had to make repairs to their apartment using their own money. She recently reached out to management requesting they fix her bathroom door but they refused.
She believes that management is retaliating against her for organizing with her neighbors advocating for rent control and renter protections. She says many elderly people live in her complex who are on fixed incomes and have a difficult time advocating for themselves when their apartments need repairs. She’s been informing them about their rights as renters and updating them on actions the city council is taking on the matter. She says management has harassed her by threatening to increase her rent and evict her.
“Yo estoy tratando de ayudar a la gente,” said Cervantes. [Translation: “I’m trying to help people.”]
Cervantes’s story is unfortunately not unique. Many Cudahy tenants rose to share how they were afraid to ask their landlords to make repairs in their homes out of fear that they would increase the rent, forcing them to pay out of pocket for expenses or living in deteriorating homes. Some residents also expressed being on the verge of homelessness and dealing with astronomical rent increases.
“Hearing the stories of our community really amplified how much we need it,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Alcantar in an interview with LA Public Press.
There were some disagreements at the May 30 meeting when two councilmembers who did not agree with the 3% rent increase limit, introduced their own motion that would have allowed for a rent increase of 4%, annually. That motion failed to even be brought to a vote. Councilmember Martin Fuentes who voted against the 3% ordinance said that at 3% things would “stay the same” and not incentivise landlords to invest in their properties.
“We don’t want things to stay the same,” said Alcantar. “We want things to improve for the people that have invested time and effort.”
A new Starbucks recently opened in the city on Atlantic Avenue and a Sprouts Farmers Market is scheduled to open early next year. Alcantar points out that these projects could have huge effects on the neighborhood, such as increasing real estate values. Strong rent control and renter protections are crucial to ensure long-time community members are not displaced by these new projects and can benefit from them.
The City Council also established an ad hoc rent control committee to analyze and study the issue of rent control and make recommendations to the council on legislation. The committee is composed of Vice Mayor Jose Gonzalez* and Councilmember Alcantar. On Oct. 19, an ordinance went into effect temporarily prohibiting rent increases, which has been extended twice and it is set to expire on July 10.
The Council will vote at their next meeting, June 6, on whether to officially adopt the ordinances. Though these second votes are usually pro forma.
The author of this story previously worked with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice which is supporting the campaign for rent control in Cudahy.
* Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Mayor Daisy Lomelí was on the ad hoc committee, when it is in fact Vice Mayor Jose Gonzalez.