In 1987, at the age of 47, Tim Sullivan, a born and raised New Yorker who never fails to see the bright side of things, moved to California. He wanted a fresh start after leaving his career at a major advertising agency in New York City. Like many people before him, he decided to go west to take part in the California Dream.
“I wanted to write more,” Sullivan says today from his art-filled apartment in West Hollywood, a small city in between Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. “I wanted to be a writer.”
What made it possible to chase his dream was the affordability of his new home.
“I was amazed not only by the quality, but quantity of affordable apartments,” Sullivan explains. “My rent made it affordable to try new things.”
While he ended up with a different career, as a candlemaker, Sullivan can still live comfortably, without much stress, because he resides in a rent-controlled apartment. Since he’s now 77 years old, that’s particularly important.
“It’s my survival,” Sullivan says about rent control. “I’m on a much lower cash flow.”
Other senior citizens in California, who don’t live in a city where there’s rent control, aren’t so lucky. According to a UCLA study, more than 75 percent of California’s low-income seniors are “financially burdened by rent.”
As corporate landlords such as Blackstone billionaire CEO Stephen Schwarzman and Equity Residential billionaire chairman Sam Zell grab for even more king-sized profits, median rents are higher than any other state in the country. Among all 50 states, California has the fourth highest increase in rents — and senior citizens on fixed incomes are struggling.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Californian earning minimum wage would have to work 92 hours per week in order to afford to rent an average one-bedroom apartment. And even though the state represents only 12 percent of the total U.S. population, California is home to 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
The 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count showed a 22 percent increase in homelessness among senior citizens aged 62 and up — nearly 5,000 people.
Now, Proposition 10 — the Affordable Housing Act — is on the November ballot. With Prop. 10, cities and counties will be allowed to urgently address California’s housing-affordability and homeless crises by giving local communities the power to limit rent increases. It will also ensure that landlords receive a fair rate of return.
The movement to support Prop. 10 is growing quickly. Trusted organizations like the California Democratic Party, California Labor Federation, California Teachers Association, SEIU, AFSCME, and the California Nurses Association have joined the cause to stand up for the families and workers they represent.
Tenant defense groups like the Eviction Defense Network, Property Owners for Fair and Affordable Housing, and others urge Yes on Prop. 10. Civil rights and faith-based groups like the National Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, the ACLU of California, PICO California, and many others have endorsed the initiative.
“Senior citizens need rent control for the fact that they are retired or on fixed incomes,” Sullivan says. “Because of their age, they can’t work or they can’t get hired.”
Without rent control, Sullivan would never be able to afford the ever-increasing rents in West Hollywood — the same kind of rent hikes that are destabilizing lives nearly everywhere in California. He’d be forced to move out of his longtime community, where he has close friends and an active social life.
“I’ve been very active in the sober community,” says Sullivan. “It would be so upsetting to not be able do that after so many years.”
Rent control protects him, and gives him stability, as he gets closer to his 80th birthday.
“After all the years we’ve worked and paid taxes and given to society,” says Sullivan, “senior citizens should be given the benefit of being able to stay where they are.”