The Winter of Our (Pandemic) Discontent

Seems like turnover in Beverly Hills residential rental housing is on the increase. Or maybe it’s just my neighborhood. After a spring and summer put on hold by the lockdown, I began to see ‘no parking’ signs pop up through the fall. Sometimes signs stacked one upon another. Moving vans occasionally doubled-up at the curb and always they seemed to haul-away furnishings but never deliver them. Is there an exodus underway?

As the pandemic extended late into the year I began to finger-count empty apartments as I walked the dog. It started at home, where three out of eleven apartments in my own building stand vacant today. I can’t remember when we last had three vacancies at the same time. There are not many lookie-loos for the unit on offer and the management is taking its time turning around the other two units.

And then as I stroll down the block and see more darkened windows, I can often recall the sunny day when a moving van packed up that household and left for somewhere else. The for-rent signs duly sprouted but it seems like I am still waiting for the ‘churn,’ to use the apartment industry parlance — the replacement households that will turn-on the lights again.

Of course I’d like to quantify the effect. But these empty units are not reflected in rental unit registry data today because vacancies are not recorded until the next tenancy is created. No industry report or federal survey will capture the households that pulled-up stakes because they don’t drill down to accurate city level data on occupancies.

I suppose I don’t need a precise tally of vacancies on my block, and on the surrounding multifamily blocks, to know that some of the vitality and vibrancy of Reeves Drive has slipped away. When it happened is difficult to put a finger on, but the decline of South Beverly Drive preceded the pandemic. The value proposition of the neighborhood started to shift when the buzz diminished and dirty streets and busted news boxes stood out more.

It is more the people. There were familiar faces that I’d known from the block that one day ceased to appear any more. After a month or three I’d realize they’re not coming back and then have to book the emotional loss of another neighbor. There are the puppy playmates who no longer come around to browse the parkway in front of the place. Soon after I forget who held the other end of the leash.

You live on the block long enough and you’ll get accustomed to this ebb and flow. “The neighborhood’s changing,” is the lament as new faces take their place in the evolving history of the block. But things feel different now. Is it the half-vacant South Beverly Drive? Or those darkened apartment windows? Maybe it’s just the poignant pandemic holiday season.

The neighbors who left may have had a better option and left to find greener pastures. Some probably had no good option and had to leave, perhaps for cheaper or more flexible accommodations. One can’t help but wonder, in this winter of discontent, if we haven’t stayed too long on the block ourselves.