This year, housing affordability in California hit a historic 10 year low, with three out of four state residents unable to afford buying a home. In some parts of the state, the situation is even more dire. In San Francisco, only 14 percent of residents can afford to buy property.
The inability of Californians to buy their own homes means that most people are forced to rent, leaving 10s of millions of people at the whim of a few greedy developers and landlords. And those landlords take advantage of the lack of rent regulation to the fullest extent possible — a third of Californians currently spend over half of their income on rent, a reality that disproportionately affects communities of color.
We had a rare chance to change all this with Proposition 10, a bill that would have put the power to regulate rent back in the hands of community members. But earlier this month, Prop. 10 failed.
Prop. 10 aimed to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 1995 statute that denies local government the right to oppose unreasonable rent increases on the majority of apartments. In other words, it would have given local governments the option to regulate rent again — but would have ultimately left the power with local community members.
It didn’t fail because Californians want their rents to continue to explode. It failed because wealthy property owners poured $74 million into a malicious campaign that bred fear among Californians and caused them to vote against their own interests.
The worst part? This isn’t just about California. It shows the lengths to which greedy billionaires will go to uphold a status quo that sits squarely in their favor.
Much of the money raised for the anti-Prop. 10 campaign came from outside the state, funneled into California by real estate moguls that own property across the country. Blackstone executives spent countless hours reassuring Wall Street executives they were doing everything they could to defeat Prop. 10 in order to quell fears that its passage could fuel rent control legislation popping up in other cities across the country.
In other words, Prop. 10 wasn’t just about keeping rents high in California — it was about keeping power in the hands of greedy landowners across the country.
Further still, this thirst for control of the homes in which we build our lives and raise our families is perpetuated by the people in our nation’s highest offices. Since his election, President Donald Trump has gutted affordable housing in New York and New Jersey— a move that funnels money directly into his own pockets thanks to the various properties he owns in the states.
Meanwhile, his son-in-law Jared Kushner continues to battle with low-income tenants of his apartment company in Baltimore who have been burdened with “improper” fees — and threatened with eviction upon the inability or refusal to pay them. Both Trump and Kushner — two wealthy, white landowners — have been called “slumlords” just like Blackstone. It should be no surprise that Blackstone’s CEO Stephen Schwarzman is one of the administrations biggest supporters and advisors.
Here in California, and elsewhere, if we want to survive and thrive we must end our current extractive housing model. The first step would be shifting power to tenants and residents by allowing them to control things like affordability and access to safe stable housing. Prop. 10 teaches us that to get there, we need to stand up and defeat the billionaires who want to control the very spaces we live in and block our progress. We aren’t giving up the fight here and we know that millions across the country won’t give up either.
Christina Livingston is executive director of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Maurice BP-Weeks is co-executive director of Action Center on Race and the Economy.