Director of Rent Stabilization Program is Appointed

City of Beverly Hills has hired a director for our new Rent Stabilization Program. Helen Morales comes to Beverly Hills after a 10-year career as a manager, hearing officer and housing investigator at City of Los Angeles. She comes to us after an eight month search. Her first day was a week ago, yet no press release or website announcement mentioned it. (A press release was belatedly posted this week.) This is what we know.

Prior to her stint with Los Angeles, Helen Morales was an analyst at Los Angeles County’s Community Development Commission, according to her LinkedIn profile. The Community Development Commission is an extension of the County Board of Supervisors and establishes policies for public housing and subsidized housing. It is also an economic development agency that channels federal funding for local housing construction. The Commission’s purview is largely, though not exclusively, the County’s unincorporated areas.

In 2008 Ms. Morales moved on to various capacities at LA Housing and Community Development and stayed over ten years, including serving as manager, hearing officer and housing investigator. I have excerpted some of her job responsibilities from the LinkedIn profile:

  • Manage Housing Investigators and support staff in the investigation and enforcement of complaints alleging violations against the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance;
  • Resolve issues resulting from landlord tenant matters in settlement negotiations relating to tenant habitability plans and other matters regarding housing issues;
  • Administer cases and prepare decisions on legal matters requiring the interpretation of laws, regulations and policies relating to all code enforcement regulations and Rent Stabilization Ordinances;
  • Develop, implement and train on policy and procedures to [sic] all subordinate staff members affecting the administration of the program;
  • Formulate ordinances, policies and budget recommendations;
  • Conduct legal research and analysis and draft decisions / pursue violations with the City Attorney’s office.

Ms. Morales’s penultimate (and most relevant) position is ‘Manager-Los Angeles Housing Department’ (duties which she performed from 2008 to 2010). Presumably this was the deal-maker for our hiring committee: management experience in a major rent stabilization program.

Education

The LinkedIn profile shows that Ms. Morales comes from a public administration background (MSPA degree from Cal State) and returned there for a higher degree. The profile is not specific about the program nor does it indicate an expected completion date (it does say ‘ABD,’ which is an acronym for ‘all but dissertation,’ which implies that the dissertation and degree is forthcoming.)

Her new job will tap all of that experience and more as the program is only getting off the ground. City Council made significant changes to the rent stabilization ordinances 18 months ago and she has a lot of catching up to do!

Uncertainty Ahead

trip hazard signThe reason for both tenants and Ms. Morales to view the road ahead with caution is that our rent stabilization program is not yet fully funded. The City Council had identified as a priority deliverable for fiscal year 2017-2018: “Create and implement the program with appropriate staffing and resources.” And Council kept that priority on the books this fiscal year while only partially funding the program.

Ms. Morales is heading-up a rent stabilization program in a city that, over decades, has declined to augment tenant protections. Just five years ago City Council declined to revisit the policy that allows for the condominium conversion of existing rental stock. Ten years ago our leaders turned away from a habitability inspection program. Things are looking much better now, but politics change.

Update: After meeting with Ms. Morales I came away with the impression that she wants to see the rent stabilization program succeed. (That’s not a sentiment one can necessarily take for granted.) To that end she was interested in the tenants’ key concerns, which I suggested was displacement first and foremost, followed by program support for tenant protections already on the books. A third concern was the availability of information that is provided to tenants. (Ms. Morales highlighted areas where the has done better and suggested it will continue to do better.) In addition I suggested separating the workshops for tenants and landlords as other cities do. She has been on the job for just a few weeks and I am cautiously optimistic that we have a steady hand on the tiller.