Los Angeles landlords can comfortably kick their renters out on the street during a pandemic

Good news for rentiers!

Yesterday, as part of my COVID-19 coverage, I popped in to watch the feed of an emergency meeting of the Los Angeles City Council. One of the main points on the agenda was an eviction moratorium.

The whole city is on a government-mandated lockdown. Parks are closed. Beaches are closed. Everything except the most essential services are closed. And just like in other cities across America, millions here are out of work and their first-of-the-month rent payments are fast approaching. It’s not clear how people are going to pay for rent. So stopping residential evictions seems like the obvious thing to do.

I mean, it seems like good governance on just about every level:

  1. It’s necessary for public health, as it prevents people from getting kicked out of their homes during quarantine and moving around and spreading the virus.

  2. It supports a government order to shelter in place.

  3. It protects the most vulnerable people during a government-mandated shutdown of the economy that put them out of work.

  4. It should be politically expedient: LA is populated mostly by renters and these renters theoretically vote for their council members.

  5. And anyway, it’s just the right and moral thing to do.

But the way the vote went showed who has the power and the political organization in Los Angeles — and it sure ain’t us lowly renters.

I like watching city council meetings. I first got a taste for them back in Victorville. In cities, the issues being discussed are usually simpler and more directly connected to everyday life. And the politicians are usually are cruder and less used to media scrutiny. Everything is a lot more direct and on the surface. You can see power much more clearly.

So one of the first things I saw when I logged on was council member Joe Buscaino — a former cop who represents the district around the Port of Los Angeles — explaining that he was against a blanket eviction moratorium because it would encourage crime. He asked: What if landlords needed to evict people in the middle of quarantine for “loud parties” and “prostitution”? Another council member — Monica Rodriguez — went on a landlord populist rant, arguing that putting a temporary moratorium on evictions would empower Goldman Sachs to buy up mom and pop landowners who’d go out of business as a result. (I mean, it’s as if landlords won’t go belly up anyway when renters can’t pay in huge numbers, moratorium or not.) Another simply opposed the eviction ban without bother to give much of a reason. And another advocated a wait and see approach: He wanted for people to first get thrown out on the street during a pandemic “before we pass something stronger.” And on and on it went. The council members who were against the moratorium didn’t have very good arguments. But they didn’t need good arguments. They had their vote and they voted against limiting landlord power — on principle.

In the end, the eviction moratorium failed to pass, failing by one vote. As it stands, landlords have the power to try to push you out on the street during a government-enacted quarantine.

That’s leadership in a time of crisis! You shut down the local economy, put people out of work, and wait until they get thrown to the curb! We’ll see how it plays out, but it sounds like a plan for wrecking havoc and spreading the virus. In other words: premeditated assault and maybe murder.

But that’s Los Angeles politics for you: power to property owners and a fuck you to everyone else.

Hope you’re well and not getting evicted.

—Yasha Levine

PS: And how is this being reported in the Los Angeles Times? In the squishiest, most deceptive way possible. The paper buried this betrayal in a single sentence — “members narrowly rejected a proposal that would have banned all evictions in the city”— that was planted deep in a story with a deceptive headline: “Coronavirus cases keep surging as California officials move to protect workers and renters.

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