Pasadena Activists Take Huge Step to Pass Rent Control and Rein In Predatory Landlords
Activists in Pasadena, California, took a huge step to pass rent control in their city — and to finally rein in unfair, excessive rents. On Monday, Pasadena Tenant Justice Coalition, which includes the Pasadena Tenants Union, completed a successful signature drive to place rent control on the November city ballot. It’s a major milestone for Pasadena activists and tenants — and another important contribution to the national rent control movement.
Activists gathered outside Pasadena City Hall to hold a press conference before dropping off 15,352 signatures with the city clerk. Housing Is A Human Right and its parent organization, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, made a major campaign contribution to help the Pasadena signature drive. The signatures need to be verified, but activists are confident they’ll pass muster.
“They’ll confirm what we already know,” said Ryan Bell, a member of the Pasadena Tenants Union and the Southern California regional coordinator at Tenants Together. “We’ll be on the ballot.”
The ballot measure will establish both “just cause” eviction and rent control protections. Just cause eviction will limit how landlords can give the boot to tenants, narrowing it down to such things as the non-payment of rent or a breach of contract, and it will provide relocation financial assistance for a tenant. The rent control policy limits increases to once a year and stabilizes rents by limiting increases to 75 percent of the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index.
Like other cities across the United States, the need for rent control in Pasadena is desperately needed, especially as corporate landlords continue to set excessive prices in the rental housing market, with other landlords following their lead. With no regulations to rein in corporate and other predatory landlords, the housing affordability and homelessness crises has only worsened.
“I shouldn’t have to wake up everyday thinking, do I pay for my son’s extra pair of jeans or do I pay the rent?” said PJ Johnson, a Pasadena resident, at the press conference.
A recent study by Zillow, in fact, found that in cities where people spend more than 32 percent of their take-home pay on rent, a spike in homelessness will follow. And nationally, the number of unhoused residents who died on the streets rose a staggering 77 percent between 2016 and 2020, according to The Guardian. Rent control, in other words, will save lives by preventing exorbitant rent increases and homelessness.
Pasadena City Council candidate Brandon Lamar told reporters and rent control supporters outside City Hall that mothers must choose between feeding their kids or paying the rent; that many longtime residents are pushed out of Pasadena by excessive rent hikes; and people are willing to live in unhealthy housing conditions just to keep their homes.
“It’s a tragedy we’re living in,” said Lamar, whose parents were forced out of Pasadena by a massive rent increase.
During the signature drive, Jane Panangaden and other activists, who worked months to collect signatures, constantly met people drowning under unfair, sky-high rents and thought they might lose their homes.
“They desperately supported rent control,” said Panangaden, the rent control campaign leader, at the press conference.
For decades, the Pasadena Tenants Union had been calling on the City Council to pass rent control. They did nothing, and rents kept skyrocketing. So activists took matters into their own hands by starting up a rent control ballot measure campaign.
“This is a culmination of 20 years of work,” said Michelle White, the rent control campaign chair and executive director of Affordable Housing Services. “Renters have been asking for rent control that long.”
She added, “We love Pasadena. We love our neighbors. It reminds me of the old spiritual: We shall not be moved. Pasadena renters shall not be moved by greedy corporate landlords.”
The California Apartment Association, the powerful landlord lobbying group that rakes in millions in contributions from corporate landlords such as Equity Residential and Essex Property Trust, will undoubtedly spend mountains of cash to stop the rent control ballot measure in Pasadena.
In 2018 and 2020, the California Apartment Association and corporate landlords shelled out more than $175 million to kill statewide rent control ballot measures, successfully defeating the initiatives by constantly rolling out deceptive TV campaign ads.
But, in November, Pasadena voters will make the ultimate decision. Will they vote “no” and stand with corporate landlords? Or will they vote “yes” and stand with their neighbors? For activists fighting on the frontlines of the housing affordability and homelessness crises everyday, the answer is simple: vote “yes” on rent control.
Patrick Range McDonald, the author of this article, is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.