First Look at Hard Data on Rental Units in Beverly Hills

The city has finally completed its first-ever inventory of rental units. As the city looks forward to reform the rent stabilization ordinance, it is important to get a handle on the city’s rental housing stock. Which we never before had! Until this inventory the city had no idea how many apartments were rented or even how many rental properties were in operation. What did the Rental Housing Initial Data Survey find?

There is a grand total of 8,662 rental units subject to rent stabilization, says the inventory. That top-line figure is itself an eye-opener. We never had a total number before. That’s well over half of all of the city’s households!

Most rental properties are small and medium sized. Almost half (43%) of the total are 5-10 unit buildings. But almost as many (41%) are 2, 3 and 4-unit buildings. These smaller multifamily buildings provide relatively-affordable rental housing.

More than half were built before 1950. In fact over the past 40 years, fewer than 500 rental units were added to our supply (less than 6% of the total. The small number of units built over the past three-plus generations says something about the city’s disinclination toward new housing. Moreover, the kind of housing we build is not necessarily what the market needs (mostly it has been condominiums).

With those basic figures the Rental Housing Initial Data Survey wraps up the analysis. This very cursory survey suggests one reason why city policymakers have refrained from addressing the problems with our rent stabilized housing market: we simply didn’t even know what we have — or how extensive the problems are.

The city is now moving ahead on a registry of rental units that will actually inventory each rent-stabilized property and the rented units — the kind of data we should have had all along. With $250,000 appropriated for consultants we are on our way to something more these two pages of titles and charts.

The preliminary housing inventory doesn’t tell us too much but it does suggest some important points:

  • The preponderance of older properties means a sizable proportion of our rental housing stock is in some state of disrepair. These preponderantly smaller properties are less likely to be properly maintained or even professionally managed. Rental housing is a renewable resource but it will reach end-of-life prematurely if landlords simply do not invest in the necessary maintenance. (Instead some prefer to maximize cash flow.)
  • The age of our housing stock suggests a market mismatch: aging units often don’t have the amenities that prospective renters expect today. Electricity upgrades, modern kitchens and bathrooms, and security at the front door are rare improvements for small property owners.
  • The tight supply of rental housing, coupled with market mismatch in new construction, contributes to what our City Council has recognized as a housing crisis in Beverly Hills. There is too much demand for too few units and we are not relieving that stress by building rental apartments people need.
  • The historic paucity of information about the rental housing stock hobbled good housing policy. Every five years our city cranks out a required General Plan Housing Element update which is filled with figures, but we had no good data on rental housing.

We had no count of evictions, no sense of tenant stability, and no roadmap for preserving the limited supply of relatively-affordable rental housing we do have. Without a foundation for prudent policy-making the needs of households in rent stabilized housing went unappreciated. This inventory is the first step.