Glendale has a lot going for it—a strong economic foundation, physical security, a rich and diverse cultural tapestry, and more.
Despite this, too many of us are struggling to make ends meet. At Glendale College, where I teach, a staggering number of students are couch surfing or sleeping in their cars, often while working two jobs. Even more are skipping meals to cut costs. Over half of Glendale renters are rent burdened (meaning that they spend more than 1/3 of their income on rent). Too many in our community are just one unexpected medical bill away from eviction. For many young people, home ownership seems permanently out of reach.
Income inequality is a national crisis with many interconnected causes. But in our region, the driving force is the skyrocketing cost of housing.
The lack of affordable housing is not just a problem for those who live in Glendale. It is also a problem for our teachers, police, firefighters, librarians and office workers—most of whom are forced to commute from long distances to work here. And all this commuting means more dirty air, increased traffic congestion, and the stress and social disruption that comes with hours spent fighting traffic rather than enjoying family time or engaging in community activities.
This situation is just not acceptable—not anywhere, and certainly not here in Glendale.
So what can we do to address the problem?
First and foremost, we need to increase the supply of housing.
Affordable Housing Construction
Glendale has already met, and in fact exceeded, state-mandated requirements to increase our housing stock. The problem is that we’ve built the wrong kind of housing. We’ve built more than the necessary number of luxury units while failing miserably at building housing in the moderate, low and very low income categories.
Affordable housing will not get built without a focused effort by the city—the economics are just not there for the market to do it unaided. This is why I propose we take a more hands on approach, working with specialized developers who know how to leverage federal and state funds to get the job done. We have a good example in the city already—the Ace/121 project next to the YMCA, designed originally as a live-work spaces for artists. We should replicate this model for retirees, veterans, teachers, city employees, young families, and other vulnerable groups.
In the meantime, we need to protect long-term residents from displacement. As an economist, I am aware that rent stabilization can have unintended side effects. It will not “solve” the housing crisis—only more supply will do that. But adding to our stock of affordable housing will take years and we cannot afford to see our community get turned upside down in the meantime. For this reason, I believe limited rent stabilization needs to be part of the package.
The Governor recently signed AB 1482 which caps annual increases at 5% plus inflation for units built more than 15 years ago (most single family units and some duplexes are excluded). The bill expires in 2030. This is a very modest step which, according to Zillow, would have affected only 7% of California rental properties in 2018.
Whether AB 1482 and earlier Glendale’s “Right to Lease” ordinance are enough to stem the bleeding is uncertain. We should give it some time, but also keep a close eye on instances of displacement and be prepared to revisit the issue quickly. For the sake of the community as a whole, we need to find a middle ground that protects the property values and income stream of small landlords while allowing renters to raise their families and contribute to the community without the constant fear of eviction.
A comprehensive solution should include a few other measures, such as free or low cost tenant legal services to ensure tenants know their rights and rules are enforced, expanded rental subsidies for at-risk individuals, and potentially a tax on luxury rental properties that remain vacant for an extended period of time (something Los Angeles is currently studying).
Glendale is doing more than most cities in the area. We have a good “continuum of care” program and close collaboration between city staff and non-profit providers of emergency housing and other services. But we must do more. We need more supportive housing and a winter shelter. We need to partner with Glendale Community College to address the large number of students living out of their cars. And we need more active efforts to keep people at risk of homelessness from becoming homeless in the first place (affordable housing policies will surely help with this). If we show a greater sense of urgency, and treat homelessness as the humanitarian emergency it is, we can make progress on this difficult and painful issue.