“After nearly a quarter century of trying, tenant activists in California could be on the cusp of repealing the state law that forbids rent control from being applied to new housing units.
Overturning limits on rent control will be on the ballot in California this November now that organizers have garnered enough signatures to certify Proposition 10. California could be the first state to repeal state-wide rent control limits via ballot initiative as a number of other cities are challenging similar laws in other states.
The law Californians are seeking to repeal, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, was originally passed in 1995. It prevents cities from enacting rent limits on any structure built after 1995, bans vacancy controls, and excludes single-family homes from rent control ordinances. In January, a bill in the California state assembly to repeal Costa-Hawkins died in committee.
Rent control imposes limits on rent increases during the duration of a tenant’s stay. Ordinances in cities grew in popularity during the 1970s, when inflation was high, according to Jenny Schuetz, a research fellow at the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program. In the decades that followed, most states banned the practice.
Many researchers have found that, over a long period of time, rent control measures actually make housing less affordable overall. But many advocates consider the policy an important stopgap protection for people at risk of being driven out of their neighborhoods or cities, particularly after other more radical proposals to address California’s housing crisis failed to pass the state legislature this year.
“Most people agree there’s a need throughout California to increase housing, especially housing for low-income people, but it takes a process of years,” said Sara Kimberlin, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center. “The question is what sort of solutions can you put into place to help those folks right now?”
As California’s housing crisis has become more acute in the last few years, political will for rent control in California has grown substantially.
“The momentum has been shifting drastically,” said Shanti Singh, the communications and development director at Tenants Together, a California tenants organization.
A 2017 poll by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California–Berkeley found that 60 percent of likely voters support rent control.
In most states, including California, the decision about whether to impose rent control has been decided by states legislatures, which then preempt cities from passing their own rent control measures. Some increasingly expensive cities are balking at this state control, and escalating their calls to give cities their own discretion on rent control.”