Name: Lori Brown
Occupation: Business owner; Vice Chair of Santa Monica Recreation & Parks; Mother of a public school students.
Neighborhood of residence: Sunset Park; Pico Neighborhood and previously Ocean Park.
Own/Rent: Own the home where my family has lived since 2001; owner of a three-unit rental property since 2013; and former renter of 24 years in rent-controlled units.
Kids: Santiago, a SAMOHI graduate now attending SMC who I adopted from Colombia when he was 12. I am also the legal guardian of a teenage girl who, like most teens, hates when the adults talk about her.
Political affiliation: Registered as a Democrat, but an independent thinker and voter who supports progressive candidates and causes at the same time I work to ensure that business owners, especially small and family-run ones, can thrive in our community.
Square footage of current home: Tiny – with 2 kids, 4 rescue dogs and a cat.
Why should homeowners or market rate renters care about the status of rent control?
Availability and cost of housing affect everyone – homeowners, landlords and tenants – because they help determine a community’s makeup: whom you shop alongside, whose children attend school with yours, who might hire you nearby. Without rent control, housing prices will rocket, and Santa Monica’s already-endangered neighborhood feel will disappear. We will become homogenous and, sadly, home to even more homeless.
How many resources are and should be put into ensuring tenants adhere to rent control rules vs. pursuing landlords who behave badly?
It should not be an either or: We should ensure that tenants and landlords are treated fairly, are heard, and that the good ones in both groups are protected. Neither is the enemy. We need to hold landlords who let properties decay accountable and hold renters accountable for actually living in their controlled units.
Have you watched any real-estate based TV shows? If so which ones?
I do seriously enjoy shows about property. There’s Flipping Out, House Hunters, Flip or Flop, Love It or List It, Beachfront Bargain Hunt, Million Dollar Listing, and Trading Spaces (who would ever let a stranger alter their house like that).
Do you think landlords are currently getting a “fair return” on their investments via the annual rent adjustment formula?
That’s a tough one. Fair return depends on so many factors. Personally, I try not to raise rents. I want tenants to stay, which benefits everyone. Still, we know the adjustment hasn’t kept pace with inflation. I suggest a study of return rates and another of a means test that might allow different adjustments for different income brackets.
What qualifies you to lead an organization with the budget and responsibilities of the Rent Control Board?
As a Parks and Recreation Commissioner, I listen to residents’ concerns, seek solutions, work with staff, set policy, and determine budgets. Other organizations I’m deeply involved in include Kidsave, Westside Thanksgiving, Upward Bound House, Westside Food Bank, Hope Street and Social Action for Nashuva. Those free decorations at our 4th of July parade? I’ve handled budgeting, buying and distributing them for a decade.
How long have you kept a houseplant alive and what does that kind of plant say about your personality?
I’m an advocate of water conservation. Hence the dead front lawn. But my backyard is flourishing with native plants. Inside, I’ve had a Spathiphyllum, or Peace Lily, as long as I can remember. It’s both beautiful (I love when it flowers with the white sails) and cleans the air. I guess that says I like to multi-task.
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?
If we want more individuals, as opposed to companies or large landlords, to invest in Santa Monica, we have to keep properties affordable and ensure they can be profitable, if not immediately then down the road. The incentives simply have to be there, be they in the form of tax breaks, utility or other discounts or future assurances.
Does the city have a housing crisis, affordability crisis, neither or both?
It’s obvious to everyone that Santa Monica needs more housing stock and more affordable housing, to own and rent alike. People with long and strong ties to the community are finding themselves forced to leave. People who want to move here, who would bring diversity and even jobs, are unable to do so.
Which television character has the least realistic living situation?
This will date me but…Monica on ”Friends.” It drove all of my friends crazy that she had a huge rent-controlled apartment in New York right across the hallway from her brother’s best friend. Coincidentally, she got the unit when her grandmother, whose name was on the lease, passed away.
What role does rent control play in establishing the culture of the city?
Rent control helps keep Santa Monica diverse in every way. It helps assure a consistency of community, enabling people to establish roots and stay in their neighborhoods. It also causes tensions. Rent control creates its own group of haves and have nots, who are often pitted against one another in buildings across the city.
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?
First, Prop 10, as worrisome as it is to landlords, does not force Santa Monica to change its rent control laws in 2020. That would remain the city’s decision to make. The same with any new limits. The Rent Control Board, with input from tenants and landlords, as well as housing and homeless organizations, would as always need to carefully weigh the impact and outcome of new rules.
I can’t say it enough or strongly enough: Santa Monica has to make (or remake) itself into a viable place for businesses beside huge companies to operate, and that includes landlords of properties on the smaller side. We need people who are vested and not just financially invested in the city to own rental properties here.
At the same time, we want a Santa Monica that is affordable for people from many walks of life. We don’t want to lose our unique vibrancy. We don’t want to become home to only two types of renters: rent-control tenants and rich ones.
There isn’t some easy or magical solution to stopping Ellis Act evictions from exploding if more limits are instituted or even if they’re not – except to make sure that we don’t impose additional limits that only exacerbate the situation. We need to fully explore ways to ease tensions in the tenant-landlord wars that are splitting Santa Monica. Let’s look at other cities undergoing similar booms to see what answers are out there. Let’s put every incentive we can find for landlords on the table and see which ones might fit our seaside situation. Let’s seek out landlords before we hear of their plans to convert their rental units to condominiums. Let’s not let them go out of business by making it our business to keep Santa Monica stable, affordable and profitable.
What is the most significant threat to the stability of housing for renters, and what are your solutions?
The most significant threat to stability of renters in Santa Monica is twofold: affordability and reliability. It does not help residents to have lower-priced, rent-controlled units if they live in constant fear of losing those units to condominium conversion or other uses allowed under the law. Then again, it is also unpleasant for tenants to struggle to live within their means because what they pay to live in non rent-controlled apartments takes such a huge monthly bite out of their paychecks.
There has to be a middle ground, a common ground as it were, between tenants, landlords and the city. The Rent Control Board has to do a better job of meeting everyone’s needs. Right now, there is a complete disconnect: renters consider landlords the enemy; landlords consider tenants a headache; and Santa Monica government is trapped between two equally unhappy groups. Plus everyone else concerned about the city’s housing situation, and that includes major companies in need of employees at their Santa Monica offices and Santa Monica residents who don’t want to lose their short commutes to rising rents.
This is what I suggest: common sense. I know that’s not a hard-and-fast plan. I also know that I’ve yet to hear a plan that sounds like one that the board would actually pass, much less be able to implement.
It’s easy to placate renters with promises of controls that will keep their monthly expenses in check. It’s also unrealistic unless we want to see more and more landlords turn over their properties and leave Santa Monica. It’s simple to target building owners as the enemy. Again, it accomplishes nothing except to make people feel better, however briefly.
Let’s start by admitting that nobody has an immediate solution to what is maybe the biggest problem confronting our city today. High housing costs are partly responsible for our homeless crisis, and it is a real crisis. They are responsible for long-time residents leaving our shores. But controlling those rents can no longer come at the cost of driving out landlords, which only drives up rents in the remaining units even more.
I say we go back to school. We start studying. What are other cities of similar size and popularity doing right and wrong? What are other, even larger magnet cities – Seattle, Portland, Austin, etc. – doing to maintain their vibrancy and diversity in the face of rising rental costs? What can we reasonably provide to landlords, what do we have to provide to landlords, to persuade them to keep their rent-controlled properties up and open in Santa Monica.
I realize this isn’t the polished political answer. But any other answer at this particular moment would just be posturing on my part, or the part of any other candidate. Let’s be honest: If someone had a solution, we as a city wouldn’t be here. All I can promise to do is work and listen and debate and push until we find an answer that fits our predicament.