California Lawmakers Kill Rent Control Bill. The Battle Could Be Headed to Voters.

Thursday, January 11, 2018
Angela Hart
Sacramento Bee

California lawmakers killed a bill Thursday that likely would have expanded rent control laws in cities and counties, setting the stage for a protracted statewide battle over how to rein in the state’s soaring housing costs.

Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s Assembly Bill 1506 died in the Assembly’s housing committee.

The 3-2 vote set off protests in the committee room, with angry tenants chanting, “Housing is a human right,” and “Repeal Costa-Hawkins.” The bill needed four votes to get out of committee.

Lawmakers on the housing committee “turned their backs on tenants,” said Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together, a statewide advocacy organization. “The bill died in committee, but the conversation about rent control...the only solution to this displacement just getting started.”

Initiative backers promised a fight at the ballot box over rent control, a deeply polarizing issue that for years has split landlords and renters over how to address the statewide housing affordability crisis.

“We plan to do everything in our power to fully repeal Costa-Hawkins,” said Anya Svanoe, an organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which is behind the proposed initiative, along with Michael Weinstein, president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Backers are gathering signatures now for the initiative, which they hope to put on the November ballot. It would repeal a 1995 state law known as Costa-Hawkins, which prevents large amounts of housing stock from being covered under local rent control ordinances. All housing built after 1995 is exempt, as well as single-family homes and duplexes. Should it qualify for the ballot, the campaigns for and against repeal would likely be expensive and bruising.

The California Apartment Association, which has poured more than $1 million into anti-rent control campaigns in cities like Richmond and Santa Rosa, is the chief opponent of Bloom’s bill and coordinated a mass protest against it Thursday. Hundreds of property owners and those against Costa-Hawkins repeal wore shirts that read “No on 1506 – Harmful to California’s housing market.” The shirts were handed out by the association.

Others in the crowd wore stickers that read “Fully repeal Costa-Hawkins, and carried “rent control now” signs.

Across California, 15 cities have local rent control laws, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Renters say repealing the state Costa-Hawkins law would allow cities to stabilize soaring rents and prevent tenant displacement in cities hit hard by the housing crisis.

“Rents are getting outrageous,” said Los Angeles renter Sheri Eddings, who has faced two $500 rent increases in the past five years. “You’re constantly wondering ‘Am I going to be able to afford this? Am I going to have to move?”

Landlords say repeal of Costa-Hawkins would hurt them financially and deter new construction.

“It would unduly burden us,” said Robert Bailey, a San Francisco landlord who rents a duplex. “It’s onerous enough with all the rent control restrictions...this would be disastrous. Why bother renting?”

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, and Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Arcadia, abstained.

“I’m not confident that a complete repeal of Costa-Hawkins is the answer,” Wood said, adding he’s concerned it would “discourage new construction during a time when we need it the most.”

“A complete repeal…is just too risky,” Chau said.

Assemblymen David Chiu of San Francisco, Rob Bonta of Alameda, and Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, supported the bill.

Assemblymen Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Steven Choi, R-Irvine, voted against the bill.

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