Despite the landslide defeat of a rent-control measure on the statewide ballot, the fight between tenants and housing interest groups is far from over.
Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, says he and other lawmakers are discussing bills to help tenants for the legislative session that begins Jan. 7, including proposals to prevent steep rent increases during housing crises and to strengthen just-cause eviction laws.
Chiu said lawmakers need to find a way to help renters in the aftermath of Proposition 10’s defeat. The measure, which would have allowed cities to expand rent control, was thumped in last week’s election, 61 to 39 percent.
“Just because Prop. 10 lost doesn’t mean the problems we are facing disappear,” Chiu said. “Far from it. California continues to be in the worst housing crisis in history.”
But the lopsided defeat may make it more difficult for advocates to bring the other side to the bargaining table. Sid Lakireddy of the California Rental Housing Association said it flatly — Prop. 10’s resounding loss is a sign that voters don’t believe rent control is the answer.
That goes for incremental changes in the state’s 1995 law that sharply limits the rent controls that cities can impose, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, as well as Prop. 10’s goal of outright repeal of the measure, Lakireddy said.
“It’s time to move on,” Lakireddy said. “We need to address the problem. Doing what it takes to solve the problem may not be politically popular in the short term.”
Lakireddy said addressing the problem means reducing regulatory burdens under the California Environmental Quality Act and removing local zoning policies when they get in the way of needed housing development.
“We need to look at everything,” Lakireddy said — everything except rent control.
Debra Carlton, senior vice president for the California Apartment Association, said housing groups are discussing how to pressure cities to approve more development. The association led the opposition to Prop. 10, helping to raise the $76 million used to defeat the measure. Proponents raised $26 million.
“I don’t know what the answer is yet, but it has to be a balance of housing-producing and a conversation about, how do we ensure people aren’t displaced in our community?” Carlton said. “We need to find a way to ensure communities aren’t just creating jobs without housing coming with it.”
Chiu, who has tried to bring tenants and housing groups together in the past, said his interest is in coming up with something that can pass the Legislature. In January, a bill to repeal Costa-Hawkins that Chiu co-authored quickly died amid fierce opposition from property owners.
That prompted tenants groups to go to the ballot with Prop. 10. They say they’re already looking at another attempt in 2020, despite last week’s shellacking.
Amy Schur, state campaign director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of the groups that campaigned for Prop. 10, said proponents didn’t consider last week’s results a message that voters oppose rent control.
“In early 2017, we could count lawmakers who supported a repeal of Costa-Hawkins on one hand,” Schur said. “The movement for rent control is bigger and stronger today than it was before the election.”
Schur said tenants’ groups will meet in December to plot their next move. She expects pro-rent control forces to focus on persuading local governments to enact the strongest price caps allowable under Costa-Hawkins.
“Small measures aren’t going to do it,” she said. “Nipping around the edges and taking action that will help us five or 10 years from now will not do it. We need to act fast to stem the tide of displacement.”
Chiu said a full repeal of Costa-Hawkins is probably off the table as far as the Legislature is concerned. He said voters have made their opinion clear on that. But changing some parts of the law could be possible, he said.
“I am hopeful with our new governor-elect that we will be able to get something meaningful done for renters this session,” Chiu said, referring to Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.
The state already has anti-price-gouging protections that apply to rental housing during the aftermath of emergencies such as fires and earthquakes. Chiu said he’s looking at whether similar protections should be offered to tenants when there’s a housing crisis.
The state’s housing problem has only been exacerbated in the past week by the loss of thousands of homes in fires in Butte County and Southern California. Steps to help homeowners rebuild quickly should be another priority for lawmakers, Chiu said.
“I’ve already reached out to my colleagues about that,” Chiu said.