California

Rent control died at the ballot box — California Democrats are trying again

Rent control advocates chant outside hearing at California State Capitol

Rent control advocates with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment chant in support of repealing the Costa Hawkins housing act outside at joint Senate and Assembly hearing on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 in Sacramento.
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Rent control advocates with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment chant in support of repealing the Costa Hawkins housing act outside at joint Senate and Assembly hearing on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 in Sacramento.

A group of Assembly Democrats introduced a bundle of housing bills on Thursday, signaling to Gavin Newsom that they were ready to work with him on fulfilling one of the new governor’s campaign promises.

In that package is Assembly Bill 1482, a measure that would cap annual rent increases. The bill would not apply to local ordinances or units already under rent control.

Voters last year rejected a ballot measure, Proposition 10, that would have accomplished much of the same thing by overturning the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act. The law prohibits local governments from imposing rent control on apartments built after 1995.

Newsom opposed Proposition 10.

Lawmakers say the state’s housing affordability crisis is so urgent rent control deserves another look.

“In recent years we have seen massive rent gouging. Not just 10 percent increases, or 25 increases, but 50 percent, 100 percent, 200 percent,” AB 1482’s author David Chiu of San Francisco said. “Our bill would cap the amount a rent can be increased annually at a level sufficiently above the Consumer Price Index to allow a landlord to receive a fair return.”

Another measure would make “make modest reforms” to Costa-Hawkins. Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s Assembly Bill 36 would allow cities to apply rent stabilization measures to rental units older than 10 years and for single family rentals and condos.

Oakland Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks also introduced Assembly Bill 724, a measure to create a database that annually collects tenant and housing data from landlords and property owners. Rounding out the package, Rob Bonta of Alameda authored a bill that places tight limits on when landlords can evict tenants. Under Bonta’s Assembly Bill 1481, landlords have to demonstrate reasonable cause for eviction and, in some cases, would have to give a 60-day notice before terminating a tenancy.

Chiu and his fellow Assembly members argued that large rent increases place unfair burdens on families, who are too often economically priced out of their homes and onto the streets or into their cars.

“Our Legislature has failed to act to address the plight of struggling tenants,” Chiu said. “[AB 1482] would for the first time create some rent certainty, allowing tenants to plan for their futures and remove the risk of unexpected rent increases.

“I make $1,800 a month, barely more than a market-rate apartment here in Sacramento,” said Robyn Mutchler, SEIU Local 1021 member and Sacramento City Unified School District employee. “I spent years applying for subsidized housing, and now I’m fortunate to have a decent home for my son and myself where I pay $960 a month. That’s over half my income.”

Mutchler said that last winter, her heater broke and the temperature in her apartment dropped to 43 degrees. Her landlord replaced the heater, but raised her rent 6 percent in the process.

In his first State of the State address as California’s new governor, Newsom urged lawmakers to craft housing affordability legislation.

“Here is my promise to you, get me a good package on rent stability this year and I will sign it,” he said.

Last year, rent control opponents raised tens of millions of dollars to defeat Proposition 10. The bills lawmakers promoted on Thursday could face similarly steep opposition from critics who say the proposals unfairly disadvantage property owners or discourage further development and construction.

“California continues to suffer from an unprecedented housing shortage, and the proposals outlined today distract from the solutions,” said California Apartment Association’s Chief Executive Officer Tom Bannon. “Applying rent control statewide and allowing rent caps on single-family homes and newer construction would only worsen our housing shortfall. We need to encourage new housing, not create policies that stifle its creation.”

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