Survey finds that 94% of respondents in Culver City identify housing affordability as a serious issue and 78% think our City Council needs to address it.
Local Community Groups Take Action
Protect Culver City Renters (PCCR), a collaboration between members of two local activist groups, Culver City Community Coalition (CCCC) and the Culver City Action Network, conducted a survey to assess how residents are feeling about housing issues regarding steady rent increases that have been taking place in Culver City.
The group released the results of the survey on June 20. It queried over 100 residents about their experiences with housing affordability and their attitudes towards various measures to locally address the issues.
Since 2009, renters’ median monthly housing costs have risen almost 40%. During the same period, owners’ median monthly costs have increased only 2%U.S. Census, Culver City Data
PCCR reports that since 2010, rent increases have far outpaced inflation. From 2011 to 2019, the average monthly rent in Culver City increased from $1,909 to $2,985. In February 2019, Culver City ranked fifth in average rent for any city in LA County, and showed the second largest monthly growth rate at 4.9%.
Notably, the cost of housing in Culver City has risen sharply for renters, but not for owners. Since 2009, renters’ median monthly housing costs have risen almost 40%. During the same period, owners’ median monthly costs have increased only 2%.
A Single Mother in Culver City Scrambles to Find Quick Solutions
Aura Walker, a single mother and Culver City resident for ten years, suddenly heard from her landlord in December 2017 when he demanded that she move out of her apartment.
She consulted an attorney who told her plainly, “Culver City? You have no rights.” After hearing too many stories like Walker’s, a group of Culver City activists decided to investigate how the renters in Culver City felt about this situation and their reactions to possible legislative action on the local level.
Walker found a new place in Los Angeles, close to Culver City, for about $140.00 a month more than she had been paying. In order to move into a newly-remodeled 2 bedroom/1.5 bathroom unit, Walker had to come up with $5,000 for a dog deposit, along with first and last month’s rent.
She was fortunate that she had money in savings and that her landlord was willing to pay her to leave before her lease was up. Walker was able to keep her daughter in the Culver City Schools by obtaining an out-of-district permit.
She later learned that, after renovation, the rent on her old apartment was raised from $2,260 a month to $4,500 a month, almost double what it had been.
Walker was able to land on her feet and keep her child in the Culver City schools. But many others have fewer resources and are struggling to stay in Culver City.
What the Data Shows About Renting In Culver City
Based on 2017 American Community Survey tables that rely on 2013-2017 averages, 46% of all Culver City renters (excluding the 3.5% who pay no rent or have no income) are “rent burdened,” that is they pay over 30% of their income on rent.
Moreover, this “rent burden” does not fall across the population equally. For example, between 2010 and 2015, the median African-American household renting in Culver City paid 43% of their income towards rent.
“Many Culver City residents are concerned about housing affordability,” said Claudia Vizcarra, a lead member of PCCR. “We intend for this report to help our community make the necessary changes to protect renters in our city.”
PCCR conducted one-on-one interviews between January and July 2018, across Culver City that included Fox Hills, to Park East, Park West, Culver West, Lucerne/Higuera and other areas.
Interviewers sought out renters, but homeowners were also invited to participate so that four out of five of those interviewed were renters.
Overwhelmingly, renters and owners alike expressed strong concerns about housing affordability and favored seeing Culver City implement specific solutions adopted by neighboring communities.
Ninety-four percent of those interviewed think that housing affordability in Culver City is either an “extremely serious” or “somewhat serious” problem. This was true for both renters (95%) and owners (90%).
PCCR claims the increased cost of housing affects our schools as well as individuals and their families.
Housing Costs and Teacher Retention in Culver City
“Our wonderful teachers and staff are attracted to our school district but are often forced to find a place to live that’s far away. After a couple of years, they start looking for a job closer to home.”Kelly Kent PhD, President, Culver City Unified District
Kelly Kent, President of the Culver City Unified School Board, has been outspoken regarding concerns about how housing costs impact teacher retention.
Kent states, “Our wonderful teachers and staff are attracted to our school district but are often forced to find a place to live that’s far away. After a couple of years, they start looking for a job closer to home. Turnover is traumatic and not a sustainable model for building excellence in staff pipelines and in relationships at all levels of the district.”
Housing issues also impact student retention. According to Drew Sotelo, the Director of School and Family Support Services in Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD), there were 75 families that had to leave the district due to rent increases in the 2017–2018 school year.
Sotelo wrote in an email to Katy Krantz of PCCR, “The overall comment I get from parents is that their rent went up and they can no longer afford to remain in Culver City but want to continue in Culver City schools.” He added that “housing-unstable” students are at far greater risk of chronic absenteeism compared to their “housing-stable” peers.
At CCUSD, the vast majority of homeless students are students of color, including 54 African American and 15 Hispanic students, or 67% and 19% of our homeless student body, respectively.
Survey Respondents Share Concerns
In the PCCR survey, eighty percent of the renters said they were worried about being able to afford their rent. And, fifty-seven percent had “given some thought to moving due to the high costs of housing.”
A three-year Culver City resident interviewed in the survey who lives who in a 350-375 square foot apartment with no air conditioning explained, “I will probably move soon. My rent is going from $1300 to $1690. Legal yes, moral no. The future westside is a utopia only for the rich. It’s greed at the end of the day.”
Culver City resident Michelle Benavides shared “I sold my home and moved away in 2000. I moved back here to Culver City in 2016. The cost of rent was now more for a studio than my three-bedroom house payment back in 2000!…I am now having to move out of Culver City,…a city I grew to absolutely love–because my rent is being increased by 20%, but my wages only increased 3%.”
In one heartbreaking post spotted on a Los Angeles Facebook parenting group in February, someone wrote, “My elderly friend and her husband live in Culver City and they are being asked to leave. They both have cancer and her husband has almost no time left. They can’t afford to live anywhere else and have medical bills.”
PCCR says some of the respondents they interviewed said they had landlords who were charging reasonable rents, but even these renters expressed concern about what would happen should their landlords sell the property or die.
They expressed concerns that whoever purchased or inherited the property would impose rent increases that they couldn’t afford.
Walker, for example, had been renting from a landlord who had been quite reasonable. In the first seven years of her tenancy, she saw her rent increase by only $50.00. After her building was sold, rents started going up by $200.00 a year. Within two years, she was pushed out.
The PCCR survey results found support for action in general, but also for the Culver City Council to implement specific solutions which have been employed in nearby cities.
The survey asked about six different means of addressing housing issues.
93.4% of respondents were in favor of the city providing information about tenants’ rights and responsibilities.
86.4% in favor of inclusionary zoning.
84.3% in favor of a “just cause” ordinance.
87% in favor of rent control.
74.1 % in favor of relocation assistance to be paid by landlords in the event of an eviction.
64.1% in favor of a rent registry.
Of all the potential policy changes that could potentially address housing issues discussed in the survey, inclusionary zoning is the only one being considered by the council to date.
On December 10, 2018, the Culver City Council voted to hire Keyser Marston Associates to draft an inclusionary housing program and ordinance for Culver City with supporting documentation.
PCCR hopes “that the survey and resulting report will work as a productive conversation starter.”
One PCCR member, Paula Amezola, observed, “When interviewing renters, I found that Latinos who lived in a mixed-status home were more fearful to answer the survey and asked repeatedly to not include their address or name. Clearly, the most vulnerable members of our communities are the least likely to show up to the city council to advocate for the right to live in a safe and comfortable home.”
The group PCCR states, “This survey is a way to include these residents’ voices. We believe that a productive conversation can only be had when the common goal of protecting renters, especially the most vulnerable renters, is at the center of the conversation.”
The full survey report can be found here.