Boost to California renters or bane of homebuilders: Prop. 10 revives rent-control debate
California voters will decide Tuesday whether a 2-decade-old limit on how local governments can keep a lid on rental-housing prices should be evicted.
Backers of Proposition say that sending the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995 packing would help those who are spending half or more of their household incomes on housing and give local governments flexibility to tailor solutions to economic conditions in their areas. Opponents say it would make the state’s “housing crisis worse” by discouraging construction and encouraging conversions of rentals to for-sale dwellings.
About $100 million has poured into the campaigns, with funds going to the “no” side outstripping supporters by a margin of 2-1, according to an Oct. 31 tally by Ballotpedia. There are visible symbols on each side. In addition to celebrities is Bernie Sanders, the popular U.S. senator from Vermont who made a strong White House bid in 2016 and has advocated for tuition and health care help. Among the opposition are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and John Cox, the Democratic and Republican party candidates for the top spot in Sacramento in this election.
One of the local champions of Prop. 10 is the North Bay Organizing Project, no stranger to the rent-control debate.
“We think cities should have full autonomy to implement the type of renter-protection policies they so choose,” said Davin Cárdenas, co-director.
The group was among the supporters of Santa Rosa’s Measure C of 2017, which lost at the ballot box that June by 5 percentage points. Local rents had jumped nearly 50 percent in the previous five years.
Measure C reversed an August 2016 decision by the City Council to cap rent increases at 3 percent a year for about 11,100 apartments occupied in the city before February 1995, the Costa-Hawkins threshold. And property owners would have had to give cause for evictions, else be on the hook for three months of rent and $1,500 if tenants were booted without cause.
Costa-Hawkins has three basic elements. It limits local rent-control rules in California to multifamily housing occupied before Feb. 1, 1995, and allows an owner to raise rent on a unit to market levels when that renter leaves. Single-family homes, condominiums and townhouses currently are exempt.
Prop. 10 would repeal Costa-Hawkins, allowing local governments to enact rent-growth limits on newer housing and include other types of homes. It also would lift restrictions on existing local rent-control measures such as those passed since 2016 in Richmond, Mountain View and Alameda and pending measures in Berkeley, National City and Santa Cruz.
After the October 2017 firestorm destroyed upwards of 7,000 homes and killed 44 in four North Bay counties, state officials enacted emergency antigouging provisions that run until Dec. 4 of this year, limiting rent increases to 10 percent. The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office has brought more than a half-dozen gouging cases to court so far, and the state Attorney General’s Office has pursued a few prosecutions in Marin County.
Building on concerns about further increases postfires, North Bay Organizing Project and other supporters of Santa Rosa’s 2017 Measure C returned to the rent-control effort this past spring, seeking signatures to get a rent-control measure on Tuesday’s ballot. But they fell short.
“We were a couple of hundred signatures away,” Cárdenas said. “We feel it is something future voters and future councils will want to support and make sure our renters are covered by these renter-protection policies.”