Nicole Phillis.

Name: Nicole S. Phillis

Age: 33

Occupation: Attorney

Neighborhood of residence: NOMA/Wilmont Line

Own/Rent: Rent

Marital status: Unmarried

Kids: None

Political affiliation: Democrat

Square footage of current home: 900 sq. ft.

Why should homeowners or market rate renters care about the status of rent control?

Rent control should matter to homeowners and market rate renters alike because, on a policy level, rent control reflects our core community value that the ability to age in place and with dignity should not depend upon whether one is wealthy enough to own property.

How many resources are and should be put into ensuring tenants adhere to rent control rules vs. pursuing landlords who behave badly?

The purpose of the Rent Control Board is to protect our rent-controlled housing stock. Our resources must be devoted, first and foremost, to remedy threats to rent-controlled housing – regardless of the source. We must act fairly and without bias to address every case and issue on the unique facts presented.

Have you watched any real-estate based TV shows? If so which ones?

Yes! Although, it’s hard to watch TV during election season. I like to watch House Hunters, Flip or Flop, Trading Spaces (reboot and original), Love It or List It, Flipping Out, and Million Dollar Listings. And, our Rent Control Board meetings on CityTV, of course.

Do you think landlords are currently getting a “fair return” on their investments via the annual rent adjustment formula?

Yes. Landlords currently enjoy vacancy decontrol, which has proven very lucrative in this rental market. In addition, if landlords believe they are not making a fair return, the Board provides a specific procedure to apply for rent increases on a case-by-case basis.

What qualifies you to lead an organization with the budget and responsibilities of the Rent Control Board? First, my record in my first term in office, which I believe demonstrates fiscal responsibility, accountability, and fidelity to the law. Second, my experience as an attorney and a former Ninth Circuit law clerk equips me with the ability to interpret and apply the law fairly and without bias.

How long have you kept a houseplant alive and what does that kind of plant say about your personality? I don’t have any houseplants, but I do have a 9.5 year old Golden Retriever. We’ve been through law school, a cross-country, move, six different apartments and two major dog surgeries. Our bond shows that when I commit to something, I am in it for the long haul (and I put my money where my mouth is).

Is there anything the Rent Control Board can or should do to encourage individuals to buy into the Santa Monica real estate and operate rent controlled buildings?

I would focus on helping landlords keep their buildings, including through pre-Ellis counseling. I would also like to see the City of Santa Monica provide low cost financing programs to support the acquisition of rent controlled buildings at risk of being Ellised and also for required maintenance, like seismic retrofitting.

Does the city have a housing crisis, affordability crisis, neither or both?

Both. The issue is that the types of housing we are primarily building are ultra-luxe, non-rent controlled, expensive units. We cannot solve the housing and affordability crises with more housing for the rich. Rather, protecting and expanding rent control, including passing Prop 10, is one piece of that puzzle.

Which television character has the least realistic living situation?

Tough question. Maybe, the cast of Friends, who can somehow afford a massive NYC apartment on the salary of a chef, a barista, and a singer/masseuse. The Kardashians paint a pretty unrealistic picture of life in Southern California. Most Americans do not have the benefit of being born into such extreme wealth and privilege; we make many trade-offs to make ends meet.

What role does rent control play in establishing the culture of the city?

Rent control is more than a policy – it is a core Santa Monica value. Santa Monica is 73% renters so it makes sense that our political culture revolves around questions of housing equity. Part of what makes Santa Monica so amazing is that you can be a stakeholder here, even if you do not own your home.

Tenant evictions were already increasing before Prop. 10 became part of the discussion. If new limits are imposed on market rate rents, what’s to stop Ellis Act evictions from exploding if landlords flee the market?

This question is incredibly important. But to address it we need to use hard numbers. According to the 2017/2018 Annual Consolidated Report, 2017 Ellis evictions were actually down from 2016. Below is a chart from the Rent Control Board’s Consolidated Report that shows the fluctuations in Ellis Activity since Ellis was passed in 1986.

So while any Ellis eviction is one too many, the trends actually show that Ellis evictions are not “exploding” but rather, that they are lower than they were in both 2016 and 2015.

Moreover, contrary to what many opponents of Proposition 10 are spinning, the passage of Costa-Hawkins in 1995 did not result in a reduction of Ellis activity – it was the exact opposite. Between 1995 (when Costa-Hawkins passed) and 1999 (when Costa-Hawkins went into effect), Ellis evictions increased, significantly. In fact, the year 2000 (the year after Costa-Hawkins went into effect) was the second highest year on record for Ellis evictions since the law was passed. The hard numbers simply do not support the idea that vacancy decontrol stops Ellising.

We do know, however, that the passage of Costa-Hawkins has drastically reduced housing affordability in Santa Monica. In 1998, the year before vacancy decontrol went into effect, 96% of rent controlled units were affordable to extremely low, very low, low and moderate income people. That means that people could actually afford to live in Santa Monica on the salaries of teachers, nurses, and hotel workers. By 2017, less than 13% of all rent controlled units in Santa Monica were affordable to those same populations, while the percentage of units affordable to higher income tenants increased over 2000%.

So what the hard numbers actually show is that while Ellis activity was not really stopped by the passage of Costa-Hawkins, what did drop, staggeringly, was the number of affordable rent controlled apartments in Santa Monica. And that was not the only effect of Proposition 10, which also created perverse market incentives to harass long term tenants out in order to raise rents under vacancy decontrol.

At day’s end, I strongly support YES on Proposition 10 because what Proposition 10 does is return local control over our rent control law to Santa Monica. And I think Santa Monicans know best about how to govern our City in accordance with our shared community values and political history.

What is the most significant threat to the stability of housing for renters, and what are your solutions?

The most significant threat to the stability of housing for renters is a lack of long term, permanent affordability. Rent control as permitted under California law addresses part of that problem by stabilizing rents to ensure that renters have predictability in terms of annual rent increases. But that is only part of the solution. We also need to address skyrocketing market pressures, speculation and stratospheric initial rents.

From a policy perspective, I believe that if a property is Ellised, the City should regulate post-Ellis use of the property to require a 1:1 ratio of housing to replace the number of units we have lost (instead of permitting large 20-30 unit apartment buildings to be replaced by 3 condominium units). I have also directly lobbied and advocated for City Council to increase Ellis Act relocation benefits so that tenants who are displaced through no fault of their own can actually afford to move to another rental unit within Santa Monica. I have also advocated for increase tenant harassment protections and enforcement by our City Attorneys’ office, to protect our most vulnerable tenants from losing their units through abuse, intimidation, or gross neglect. And lastly, I support a strong YES on Proposition 10, because it will allow the City of Santa Monica to reassert local control over our rent control law, including potentially controlling aging buildings constructed after 1978 to help replenish our rent controlled housing stock.

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