The high cost of rents in Southern California is really getting out of hand.  The cost of a one-bedroom apartment in the LA region ballooned by 15.6 percent last year, and this boosted the median monthly rent to $2,300.  The LA area, according to recent news reports, now ranks fifth highest in the nation in terms of the cost of rental units.

Here in Pasadena, things can get even worse.   For example, The Hudson Apartments at Walnut Street and El Molino Avenue are going for $3,890 per month for a one-bedroom unit. This is outrageous. How many of our residents can afford this? Not many.

About 57 percent of Pasadena residents are renters, while 43 percent are homeowner occupied, according to a 2012-2016 American Community Survey. The high cost of rents and subsequent evictions in the LA area are causing crises and directly related to our acute homeless problem.

More than half of all the renter households in California pay more than 30 percent of their household incomes on housing. Even worse, nearly a third pays more than half of their incomes on housing. These are the people who are teetering on the edge of homelessness and, to a large extent, this explains why our homeless problem is so severe.  

While the paucity of affordable housing is often linked to a shortage of development, the real problem, at least in Pasadena, is the kind of development that is occurring. The Hudson Apartments are just one example of unaffordable housing. Greedy developers only seem to want to build “luxury apartments” and “spacious townhomes” to maximize their profits. To see recent examples, just view the mega-developments next to Vroman’s Bookstore and at the intersection of Walnut Street and Allen Avenue.  Again, how many of our residents can afford to rent units in these huge and expensive developments? The answer is very few. Thus, we have a shortage of affordable housing in Pasadena.

And despite all the complaints from critics about high taxes, “oppressive” regulations and bureaucratic red tape in California, these developments nevertheless got built. How do we explain this? Having scads of money and friends in high places? Surely these things can’t hurt.

Some argue that we should just allow the markets to work to solve the affordable housing crisis. But this crisis has occurred under the current system, which is market-driven. The markets are clearly not working, and that’s why we are in trouble.   

If the markets are not working, then it’s time for government to step up to the plate. Unfortunately, Pasadena’s Mayor and City Council have shown little willingness to do this. They should think twice and reconsider the well-being of the large majority of their constituents — the renters.  To what extent does their cavalier indifference to the plight of renters stem from the fact that they are all real estate owners?

One solution to the affordable housing crisis is some form of rent control, which has been adopted in a few places such as San Francisco, New York City and Los Angeles. Even critics of rent control admit that in San Francisco, “most renters benefit” from rent control, according to one report in the local newspaper. That’s a lot of people, and many of them are older people. Rent-controlled tenants age 40 or more enjoyed a total average savings over time of almost $120,000, the Pasadena Star-News recently reported. Sounds like good policy to me.

Various arguments against rent control, like it causes landlords to lose money, or that it stops development, or that it causes apartment units to fall into disrepair, are sweeping and unfounded generalizations that are of dubious validity.   

Fortunately for Pasadena, we have a new grassroots group, the Pasadena Tenants Union (PTU), which is working to qualify a charter amendment for the voters to judge on the November ballot. This charter amendment would authorize a form of limited rent control that is pegged to the rate of inflation and includes “just cause” language that would stipulate landlords must have legitimate reasons to evict tenants.

The PTU deserves your support. Please sign the petition it is currently circulating at multiple locations.

For more information, contact  

John Grula, PhD, is affiliated with the Southern California of Scientists.