The recession of the early 1990s deeply impacted the City of Los Angeles. The phenomenon of abandoned buildings and problem properties with drugs and gangs increased, as did slum housing and city budget cutbacks for programs such as code enforcement. In a city where 60 percent of its residents rent and nearly 25 percent of these tenants pay half of their income for rent, the need to focus on maintaining an affordable rental housing stock was evident. Rather than constructing new affordable housing developments, the city decided to shift its focus to improving the existing housing stock.
In response to mounting concerns over slum housing, Los Angeles residents formed the Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee, which criticized the city's process for receiving code complaints and conducting inspection in multifamily rental housing. Spurred by these findings of the committee, the city established the Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP) in 1998. The goals of SCEP are to achieve code compliance, to ensure that state health and safety codes are enforced so that all residents, including the city's poorest, live in decent, safe housing, and that the city's housing stock does not slide into irreversible disrepair.
Prior to the implementation of this program, the cost of complaint resolution was borne by the general public, but now, housing provision is a business with consumers and providers. The program is funded by an annual per unit fee, which is charged to and paid by the property owner, who can then pass it on to the tenants. SCEP makes a concerted effort to work closely with both the tenants and the landlords, fostering trust among all parties involved. Moreover, SCEP is constantly educating its inspectors so that they are qualified to properly enforce the regulations. Inspectors are also required to complete sensitivity training so that they are able to best relate to the tenants and the landlords, bridging any cultural divides.
Since the establishment of the SCEP, more than 90 percent of the city's multifamily housing stock has been inspected and more than one and half million habitability violations have been corrected. The result has been an estimated $1.3 billion re-investment by owners in the city's existing housing stock. Furthermore, Los Angeles tenants and owners are better educated on their rights and the remedies available to them and possess greater confidence in the Housing Department's ability to provide these services effectively.
*This program was the winner of the special Fannie Mae Foundation Innovations Award in Affordable Housing.