West Hollywood City Councilmember’s Proposal to Subsidize Landlords With Affordable Housing Funds Gets Slapped Down
West Hollywood Council Member John D’Amico’s shocking proposal to raid the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which provides a resource to create desperately needed affordable housing, in order to subsidize landlords by financially helping them make repairs to their building was firmly rejected by his colleagues at West Hollywood’s April 2 City Council Meeting.
After public testimony and a Council debate on the proposal, it was a little after midnight when D’Amico conceded stating, “I hear that using funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is pretty much not going to happen.”
The proposal D’Amico was advancing asked that the City Attorney be directed to draft an amendment to the city’s Municipal Code to no longer mandate developers to provide on-site inclusionary affordable housing units in their new developments. All they would be required to do is pay an in-lieu fee instead. It also
asked for an amendment to the Municipal Code to allow the city’s affordable housing funds to be used to assist landlords in upgrading their property and doing ‘green’ renovations.
D’Amico had his share of supporters for the landlord subsidy program present who testified. They were mainly landlord and realtor organization representatives, individual landlords, homeowners, condo owners and the head of a Republican club. Not a surprise given that D’Amico got significant financial support for his election from the landlord group West Hollywood Concerned Citizens and the Greater Los Angeles Apartment Association.
Their testimony was symbolized by the outrageous statement from West Hollywood Planning Commission Chair Alan Bernstein who said, “I’m tired of landlord bashing. It’s cheap and pseudo populist.” He then stated, “Our rent stabilized housing is our affordable housing and we could legally means test,” a position that has been consistently put forth by strident rent control opponents. Bernstein also heads an apartment management company.
On the other hand there was strong community opposition to the plan. CES West Hollywood activist Joe Praml, who has been a key person to the development of CES’ Tenants’ Rights Clinic, testified, “I’m voicing my opposition Council Member D’Amico’s proposal to take funds from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and use it to fix up buildings that some landlords have allowed to become run down.”
Praml added, “At our Clinic I’ve seen the dark underside of the tenant-landlord relationship. It’s my experience that landlords who allow their properties to run down likely are to be landlords pathologically opposed to our Rent Stabilization Ordinance, and who harass their tenants, refuse to make repairs, and try evicting one way or another their long term tenants under rent control so they can jack up rents with the vacancy. What’s to stop these landlords from intensifying their efforts after their building gets spiffed up.”
Former West Hollywood City Council Member Lindsey Horvath said, “To take money away from low income affordable housing to give it to property owners, it’s not the right use of public funds.”
West Hollywood Rent Stabilization Commissioner and former CES staff member Agassi Topchian warned, “This amendment is very dangerous to the city. We need this Affordable Housing Trust Fund to create affordable housing units.”
West Hollywood Transportation Commission Chair Steve Wayland stated, “By giving landlords Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars to upgrade their existing housing stock means that when vacated the rents will be higher thanks to us providing them with funds to upgrade their units.
Then it was City Council Members turn to chime in.
City Council Member Abbe Land in her opposition to subsidizing landlords and changing the in-lieu fee law said, “There are some things in here that are very troubling to me.”
City Council Member John Heilman strongly stated, “I am adamantly opposed to using the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for this landlord improvement program. I don’t think that’s the right use of those funds.”
Mayor John Duran added that, “He was going to support the item to get the discussion going, but a hiccup would be the use of Affordable Housing Trust Funds to landlords if there was no benefit to the city. That could be problematic.”
Finally, City Council Member Jeff Prang echoed, “I have some trepidation about using Affordable Housing Trust Funds to assist with upgrades.”
It was at this point that D’Amico conceded in defeat of his landlord subsidy program, but did attempt one last ditch effort to get support for directing the City Attorney to draft an amendment to the Municipal Code to amend the on-site affordable housing requirements and allow for in-lieu fee collection to be paid into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for mixed-use developments to satisfy his anti-density homeowner/condo owner supporters.
Council Member Prang responded by proposing to rather direct staff to take all the suggestions that were discussed, such as finding alternative ways to upgrade and green existing housing, increasing in-lieu fees to developers (which CES acutally does support) and seeking additional affordable housing funding sources, and reporting back.
It was this direction that ended up receiving an unanimous Council vote.