Influencers Opinion

California’s housing crisis is displacing renters. What can be done to protect them?

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

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The brutal combination of a widespread housing shortage, skyrocketing rents, increased income inequality and rapidly spreading homelessness has created a crisis that touches the lives of every Californian, but most harshly impacts the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“Tenant protections are essential in a state with poverty rates above the national average, three hour commutes and teachers sleeping in their cars,” said Bay Area political consultant Catherine Lew. “But there are millions of Californians we can’t protect from unfair evictions and massive rent hikes without meaningful, institutionalized reform.”

The Sacramento Bee’s California influencers are almost unanimous in agreeing that the state must be much more aggressive to establish some degree of sanity and stability in the rental market here. But the range of their proposed solutions varies widely.

“Long term, dramatically adding to our housing supply is essential to driving down housing cost increases,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). “But increasing supply in the future is of little consequence to a tenant facing an unaffordable rent increase today.”

Bloom was one of several Influencers who applauded Gov. Gavin Newsom for his push for legislation that will cap rent increases and make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants.

“Predatory landlords need accountability,” said Lisa Hershey, executive director for Housing California. “California’s 17.5 million renters deserve relief from landlords hiking rent by as much as 100 (percent), protection from eviction without ‘just cause,’ and a right to counsel when an eviction notice arrives.”

Other Influencers argued that eliminating barriers to housing construction would be a more effective way to increase supply and bring down costs for renters and homeowners

“False onerous market controls, like rent control or rent caps, are merely band aids to a complex market deficiency created by both state and local anti-growth advocates, who advance policies to discourage new development,” said Jennifer Svec of the California Association of Realtors. “We must address the housing shortage with policies that will actually lead to more housing and not by enacting more polices that simply serve to mask the problem.”

State Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) offered specific proposals to increase housing supply.

“High rents are caused by high demand for a scarce supply of apartments. The solution is more apartments, which reduces rents,” Grove said. “California needs to remove burdensome regulations and fees and make it easier to build… It shouldn’t take up to $100,000 in permits and fees before builders put their first nail in a 2x4.”

Another frequent point of emphasis is the need for new development to include setting aside more low-cost units for renters who can not afford market rates.

“We need more California cities to become “pro-housing” and build more housing units with every segment of their population in mind,” said Tia Boatman Patterson, Newsom’s chief housing adviser. “Approving luxury multifamily units in areas where housing is most needed puts low- and moderate-income renters in danger of displacement.”

League of California Cities Executive Director Carolyn Coleman urged Newsom to sign legislation that would provide additional funding to local governments for affordable housing construction.

“As market forces spur new development or redevelopment of existing housing stock with presumably higher market values or returns, our renters are feeling the pressure as rental costs increase,” Coleman said. “One of the best ways to protect our families is to increase the supply of affordable rental housing as determined by locally driven and state approved land use plans.”

Another way of making housing more affordable is to put more money directly into the hands of California renters, said Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal, who proposed increasing the state renters’ tax credit

“The current renters credit is a paltry $60 ($120 for couples)… with strict income limitations,” Coupal said. “Increasing both the current renters credit and homeowners exemption… would be extraordinarily helpful in not only alleviating California’s current housing crisis, but also providing middle-class tax relief in America’s most heavily taxed state.”

Jim Boren, executive director of the Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State University, offered a reminder that the ultimate solution must include both protection for tenants and create incentives for development.

“We need thoughtful renter protections that are sustainable. However, until we increase the stock of affordable housing units to meet the demand, the cost of rentals will continue to rise and put vulnerable renters on the street,” Boren said. “We must reduce government regulations that make building housing more costly, and we must revise laws that prevent us from putting reasonable caps on rent increases.”

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
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