The late 1970s were a revolutionary time for middle class and working class Los Angeles area renters who saw their way of life damaged by inflation and a growing housing shortage. Their anger spread from their apartments and homes on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley and led to the passage of the city's current rent control law.
It was also a force in the voters' approval in 1978 of Proposition 13, the famous property tax limit measure, which had its roots among the homeowners and apartment dwellers of the Valley. Yet despite rent control and Proposition 13, L.A.'s housing shortage and spiraling rents have grown worse.
The story is told in a report by the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy. One of the shapers of the report is a veteran of the '70s' conflicts, former Los Angeles County supervisor and Los Angeles city councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. He is a senior fellow at the center and director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and a professor in the history department.
The author of the report is Alisa Belinkoff Katz, a fellow at the history and policy center. UCLA doctoral candidates Peter Chesney, Lindsay Alissa King and Marques Vestal contributed invaluable historical research. It will be discussed at a history department symposium at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at the UCLA Faculty Center.
The report convincingly links rent increases and the housing shortage to the homelessness which afflicts the LA area today. It declares, "While seniors and other tenants in the 1970s were hard hit by rent increases, they were decidedly middle class. They had something to fall back on - job skills, small savings, or investments. When push came to shove, many could find ways to make do. The victims of today’s housing affordability crisis include the lowest-income renters who make up a much-higher percentage of the city’s population. They have little to fall back on - except the street."
Center director David Myers, a UCLA history professor, said, "Los Angeles is experiencing a perfect storm of affordable housing shortfalls, rising rents, and dropping incomes. It is crushing the poorest citizens of the city, particularly Latinos and blacks, with disproportionate force, and this interplay has exacerbated homelessness--the great social and moral scourge of our time and an epidemic that threatens the life and soul of our city."
One recommendation in the report proposes extending rent control to units that are not currently controlled, such as properties built since 1979 and single-family homes.
As a reporter and bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, I covered the homeowner and renter movements of the 1970s. I particularly remember the storefront volunteer offices in the Valley, first ignored then recognized as birthplaces of the movement. The grandchildren of these movement people should put the same energy toward convincing elected officials to strengthen the rent control law and continuing efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing.