Rent Control Advocates Turn to California's Initiative Process after Bill Fails

A statewide initiative has been filed by California tenant activists that would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, the 1995 legislation that restricts the type of rental housing regulated by local rent control ordinances.

3 minute read

October 27, 2017, 9:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Apartment for Rent

ah_fotobox / Shutterstock

"California housing advocates have filed paperwork [pdf] to launch a 2018 ballot measure allowing cities and counties across the state to strengthen local rent control laws, a move they see as critical as California confronts a statewide housing shortage," reports Angela Hart for The Sacramento Bee on Oct. 23.

The request for title and summary – the first step toward gathering signatures for an initiative – was received by the state Attorney General [Becerra's] Office on Monday. If advanced to the November 2018 ballot and approved by voters, the measure would repeal California’s Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, passed in 1995, which sets tight limits on the type of housing that can be covered under local rent control ordinances. 

The initiative move comes after [AB 1506from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, died earlier this year amid opposition from the the California Apartment Association.

Backing the initiative effort are "[l]eaders of tenant advocacy groups and Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation," reports Jenna Chandler for Curbed LA on Oct. 23. Readers may recall that the foundation was a key backer of the anti-development Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, aka Measure S, which Los Angeles voters rejected last March.

“The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act needs to be repealed. It’s an obstacle in the way of protecting tenants,” says Walt Senterfitt, with the LA Tenants Union, which supports the initiative. It was filed by [Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment] ACCE Action and Eviction Defense Network, along with AHF.

By repealing Costa-Hawkins, buildings constructed after 1978 in Los Angeles and San Francisco and after 1995 in some of the small group of other cities with rent control, would lose their exemptions. Other restrictions, such as "'vacancy de-control'— the ability of a landlord to set new market-rate rents after a tenant moves out of a rent-controlled unit, as well as exempted single-family homes from any rent controls," described by land use planner Reuben Duarte in his April Planetizen blog on the unsuccessful Bloom legislation, would also be eliminated.

However, it would still be up to cities to determine whether they want to be covered by rent control, but by eliminating Costa-Hawkins, it would likely stiffen the opposition of groups like the apartment association. So while the initiative would be good for those cities that have rent control, it might make it less likely that other cities would adopt rent control, either by ordinance or initiative.

The last word goes to Duarte's last words:

While protecting the rights of existing residents is important and necessary, rent control is the wrong solution to the problem of an overarching environment of high housing costs. There is near climate change-like consensus among economists that rent control is a long-term negative for municipalities. The appropriate solution ... is to push for policies that increase the number of units of all types be constructed. [See latest new housing laws that aim to do just that].

Hat tip to MTC Headlines.

Monday, October 23, 2017 in The Sacramento Bee

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