Proposition 21: Rent control

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The basics

What would Proposition 21 do?

Allow cities to pass rent control measures on almost all rental housing, as long as it’s more than 15 years old.

Renters got a break last year, when the state enacted a law capping annual rent increases at around 8%. But another, older state law doesn’t let cities enact their own, stricter rent control laws for single-family homes or rental housing first occupied in the past 25 years. Nor can cities prevent landlords from raising the rent on new tenants to market rates.

There are still a few exemptions built into Prop. 21. For example, cities still wouldn’t be able to cap rent increases by “mom-and-pop landlords,” who own no more than two small properties such as single-family homes or condos.

If the measure passes, cities and states may lose revenue in the “high tens of millions per year,” according to an analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s office, because landlords will pay lower property taxes.

Why am I voting on this?

Prior to 1995, cities and counties could enact their own rent control laws — and several did. Then, state lawmakers passed the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act to curb that power.

As the cost of rent in California has skyrocketed, tenant advocacy groups have now twice tried to roll back the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act as a way to let cities protect their affordable housing stock.

You might remember voting on a very similar measure in 2018 — it went down in flames as 59% of Californians voted against it. But the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which co-sponsored the 2018 campaign and whose president Michael Weinstein has increasingly waded into California’s housing battles, has brought it back. 

So what’s new this time? While the measure has been tweaked a bit, the context has changed drastically. Though Prop 21. won’t help people from being evicted because they’re late on rent due to the pandemic, advocates hope that the financial shock triggered by the coronavirus pandemic will make people more eager to protect renters.

Supporters say

This would let cities pass limits on rent increases to protect California families who are one rent hike away from being driven out of their neighborhoods by corporate landlords. This will stop more homelessness and gentrification.

Opponents say

It would make it less profitable for builders to construct more housing, affordable or not, at a time when California has a massive housing shortage. It would also decrease revenue for city and state governments, already cash-strapped by the pandemic. Plus, Californians already made up their mind in 2018.

Who's for it:

  • Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation

  • California Democratic Party

  • Eviction Defense Network

  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

Who's against it:

  • California Apartment Association

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom

  • Essex Property Trust and Prometheus Real Estate Group

  • California Seniors Advocates League

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How is this being bankrolled?

Major Donors in Support

  • AIDS Healthcare Foundation

  • California Nurses Association

  • California Democratic Party

Major Donors in Opposition

  • Equity Residential, corporate landlord

  • AvalonBay Communities, corporate landlord

  • California Business Roundtable, an industry group for the state's largest businesses

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