COVID-19 Exposes Democracy in L.A.

By Paul Keith

From rent control to harassment of the homeless, activists across Los Angeles have battled landlords and developers for years, and the current crisis is just the latest round.  

One local tenant and activist identified only as Kevin called into the April 22, L.A. City Council meeting over Zoom to eviscerate council members over the number of landlords they have given a platform to. 

“So, I’m hearing from the concerns of landlords quite a bit on this meeting and previous meetings,” he said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to be putting the concerns of landlords over the concerns of tenants at this point.” 

It’s a fair complaint. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates only 36.8% of Angelenos are homeowners, which implies a super majority of the city renters are housing insecure.

A study conducted by USC Dornsife Center for Economic Research found the employment rate in L.A. went from 62% in mid-March, to 45% in mid-April. Given such rates, one would expect aggressive action from City Hall to meet the basic needs of its citizens.  

While there has been no shortage of headlines about relief from City Hall, activists in Los Angeles remain critical.  

Healthy LA is one of the organizations to spearhead the grassroots pressure on City Hall. 

“We are a network of 300 advocacy organizations, worker centers, labor unions, service providers, religious congregations, community groups, affordable housing developers, public interest lawyers, public health and safety organizations, and many more uniting to propose concrete solutions to the many hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a statement on their website. 

On March 27, Healthy LA sent a letter to City Hall that outlines where COVID-19 related ordinances fall short. Concerns included paperwork requirements, which a working-class person with little legal training and subject to sudden termination is unlikely to possess, and the limited scope of the evictions actually banned. At the April 22, City Hall meeting, these suggested measures were voted down again.  

It is a shock that elected representatives would refuse to support when a majority is in dire need, but less so when we consider at least seven City Council members have been shown to be landlords themselves.  

A system of government that prioritizes the wealth of a small number over the health of the majority, cannot legitimately be called a democracy? 

Let us know what you think.

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