One unpredictable positive reverberation of the #MeToo reckoning is that prospects for rent control may have improved.
Real estate Democratic Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra resigned because of past sexual harassment. He served on the Assembly Housing Committee, where Assemblymember Richard Bloom’s AB 1506 to repeal Costa-Hawkins was parked. Our Assemblymember David Chiu chairs the committee and co-sponsored AB 1506. Without Bocanegra, AB 1506 is one vote closer to passing the committee when it’s finally heard on Thursday.
The Legislature passed Costa-Hawkins in 1995 to stop/contain local rent control. It did so by limiting rent stabilization for current tenants to a rapidly shrinking pool of older multi-unit buildings, banning vacancy control (preventing prices from rising to market rate when a unit vacates), and excluding condominiums and single-family homes from rent control.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of housing bills that were simultaneously heralded as bold action to address the housing crisis by state government and which everyone, including the sponsors, also acknowledged were a drop in the bucket. The “housing package” provided funding to build affordable housing and expedited construction of market-rate housing, both of which take awhile to roll out.
On the other hand, expanding rent control protects tenants from displacement immediately. Many strategies, including massive federal funding for what Europeans call “social housing,” are necessary to solve a long-term national housing affordability crisis. It’s foolish and cruel not to protect communities being torn apart today because you’re only interested in policies that will produce benefits a decade after it’s too late to help anyone currently suffering.
As a landlord, I have rent control in the form of Proposition 13. My costs do not fluctuate dramatically. Sure, there is the occasional one-time expense when a hot water heater bursts, but landlords don’t experience abrupt permanent doubling of costs, as happened to my mom’s rent in Oakland, which pushed her out of state.
As president of Small Property Owners for Reasonable Controls, aka SPORC—a PAC of insignificant landlords, on behalf of 100 percent of mom-and-pop landlords, I support rent control. With rent control heating up in 2018, the time may be ripe for SPORC to dissolve into competing factions, which is why I’m launching two new organizations—LAME (Landlords Against Massive Evictions) and LENT (Landlords Empowering Nice Tenants). All of these consist only of me.
Ideally, the legislature passes AB 1506 to avoid a bruising November ballot fight. If passed by the Assembly Housing Committee, it would go to the full Assembly without another committee referral, but that is seen as a long shot to get past all the moderate realtor-Democrats.
Since Democrats effectively gained a permanent majority in California, and a current tenuous supermajority, a culture of cowardice has festered among legislators. Rather than voting on a bill so the public can know their actual stance, assemblymembers will banish to committee to die bills they don’t want to go on record voting against.
California’s renters, facing a displacement crisis in every corner of the state, deserve better. The Housing Committee needs to send Costa-Hawkins repeal to the floor. If assemblymembers prefer to side with the Association of Realtors and the California Apartment Association over communities in crisis, we have a right to know. If you’re not willing to stand behind a controversial vote, you have no business in office.
Repealing Costa-Hawkins would only allow localities to design their own rent control system. While I would prefer to have minimum statewide rent control that cities could exceed, that’s not on the table yet. Maybe the needs of San Francisco and Lodi renters are not identical.
San Francisco is one place where we have the will to expand rent control if Costa-Hawkins were repealed. Assemblymember Chiu owes it to his constituents to give us that opportunity by bringing AB 1506 to the full Assembly. If his colleagues kill it on the floor and rent control goes to the ballot, they should be held accountable.
Nato Green is a comedian, writer and union organizer.