California on verge of adopting rent control measure

Ten months after California voters rejected a rent control ballot initiative by more than 2.3 million votes – 59 percent to 41 percent – the state is on the brink of enacting a rent control measure approved by the Legislature and backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Proposition 10 failed last year after two political action committees backed by apartment owners, real estate agents and others in the rental business paid for tens of millions of dollars in TV ads that depicted the measure as being a threat to seniors – a tactic that was effective but criticized as manipulative. This view that they didn’t lose a fair fight is one reason that Prop. 10’s main backer – the AIDS Healthcare Foundation – and other advocates plan a 2020 ballot measure on rent control.

This belief that rent control was a political winner despite Prop. 10’s result was also on display in Sacramento with Assembly Bill 1482. Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and other Democrats barely acknowledged Republican complaints that the bill amounted to an end run around the will of voters. Instead, they said Californians demanded relief from soaring rent.

Newsom opposed concessions made by bill author

But Chiu was worried enough about winning support for AB1482 that he weakened some of its provisions to get business groups to remain neutral on the bill. This led to an unusual scenario over the last month in which a high-profile, controversial measure actually was strengthened – not weakened – as final votes neared. That came after Newsom and his staff told Chiu he shouldn’t have compromised.

The Assembly passed AB1482 on the strength of 48 Democratic vote. It was opposed by a bipartisan group of 26 members. It passed the Senate 25-10 on a close to party-line vote.

The version that reached Newsom’s desk this week limits most annual rent increases to 5 percent plus inflation, with the law sunsetting in 2029. It doesn’t supersede local rent control laws in place in Los Angeles and about 20 other cities in the Golden State, with many in the Bay Area. Apartments built within the last 15 years are not covered. Nor are rented-out single-family homes – with the exception of those owned by investment groups or corporations. 

The passage of the rent control measure comes amid evidence that despite three years of new laws meant to ease the housing crisis, homebuilding in the state is actually declining in 2019. Capitol watchers said now at least lawmakers who backed it can tell their constituents they got something big done on housing.

Will California again be a national trendsetter?

But the steady advance of AB1482 was also treated as a national story by the New York Times and many other major news outlets because of California’s long history as a national trendsetter.

Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of Housing Justice for All, told the Times that the bill’s likely enactment could be a game-changer. “Any victory helps to build a groundswell,” Weaver said. “There is a younger generation of people who see themselves as permanent renters, and they’re demanding that our public policy catches up to that economic reality.”

California became the second state after Oregon to adopt statewide rent control. Chiu’s bill was modeled on one that Oregon lawmakers enacted in February.

Many economists believe rent control ends up being counterproductive because it discourages construction and adequate maintenance, among other problems.

In 1992, when the American Economic Association surveyed its members on the topic, 93 percent agreed that “a ceiling on rents reduces the quality and quantity of housing.”

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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