Prop. 21 is one way to help to preserve the social and economic fabric of our state by keeping vulnerable people in their homes.
By Cynthia Davis, Special to CalMatters
Cynthia Davis is chair of the board of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Cynthia.Davis@ahf.org.
One can empathize with property owner’s concerns about the increasing difficulty many African Americans, Latinos and other minorities face getting a leg up on the American Dream through home or condo ownership. However, it is misguided to blame rent control and Proposition 21 as a barrier to that often-sought dream or a disincentive to build affordable housing.
First, to be clear: Prop. 21 will not force rent control into effect anywhere in California. It simply restores the decision-making process on whether or not to allow or enact rent control measures to local jurisdictions, communities and local elected officials.
Currently, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act is a one-size, fits-all state law that restricts rent control throughout California, while freezing rent control laws that had already been enacted by the time the law passed.
Prop. 21 actually modernizes rent control by allowing local governments to limit rent increases on buildings older than 15 years, protecting millions of renters while incentivizing new housing construction.
California has 17 million renters – almost 45% of the state’s population – who, according to Zillow, face a state median rent of $2,775 and currently have little or no protection from skyrocketing rents. We are the epicenter of homelessness in America, have the highest poverty rate as measured by the cost of living and many renters pay half their income or more in monthly rent. And that was before COVID-19.
Prop. 21 will preserve affordable housing by slowing rent increases across communities by limiting rent hikes on empty units. This will help keep housing costs down for all of us while reducing unjust evictions of seniors, veterans and families.
In its endorsement of Prop. 21, the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Rent control can be a helpful tool for cities struggling with gentrification, displacement and homelessness in a booming real estate market.”
While Prop. 21 does allow rent limits on more rental homes than ever before, it specifically exempts small landlords and homeowners, those who own up to two homes, from the law.
It is the large corporate landlords, the hedge funds and billionaire property owners and developers who may face some or more accountability and restraint when – or if – local cities and jurisdictions choose to enact any forms of rent control.
As to the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on housing: the medical, humanitarian and economic devastation is unprecedented. As many as 5 million Californians were at risk for eviction at the beginning of September.
Thankfully, the California Legislature put COVID-related evictions briefly on hold by extending an eviction moratorium. However, they shamefully waited until the 11th hour on the final day of its legislative session to pass a watered-down bill banning evictions based on unpaid rents between March and August 2020.
The hastily enacted legislation does not wipe out unpaid rent, and landlords can, and many no doubt will, begin to aggressively pursue that debt – and resultant evictions – in civil court starting March 1, 2021.
Property owners are right to call out “the failure of our leaders to pass protections for small landlords like me endangers our livelihoods and puts our tenants at risk.” Sadly, legislators in Sacramento – many of whom are landlords – have also repeatedly failed to pass any meaningful protections for renters.
What are citizens to do when Sacramento is so bought and paid for that no renter protections or mom and pop landlord protections can overcome the millions of dollars in campaign money showered on legislators by deep-pocketed Real Estate concerns?
Take it directly to the people of California at the ballot box, as we are doing with Prop. 21.
Prop. 21 is endorsed by the California Democratic Party, California Congresswomen Karen Bass, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee, actor/activist Danny Glover and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, as well as many other civic, municipal and religious groups.
Prop. 21 is one way to help to preserve the social and economic fabric of our state by keeping vulnerable families, veterans, the elderly and the disabled in their homes.
CalMatters Guide to the propositions: Proposition 21: Rent control