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Oakland voters weigh in on rent control

on October 19, 2020

Two years after California voters rejected Proposition 10, rent control supporters are trying again. This November, voters are considering Proposition 21, which would allow cities to set and manage rent control provisions.

If Proposition 21 passes, local governments could establish rent control on residential properties over 15 years old. It would also allow rent increases on properties of up to 15% more than the previous tenant’s rent. The new rules would not apply to those who own fewer than two homes.

Rent in California is among the highest in the country, as the state faces an unprecedented housing shortage. People who want to live in the state must compete for housing, which in turn increases the rent. Nearly 150,000 Californians are facing homelessness due to expensive rents, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Those in favor of Proposition 21 believe rent control is an easy way to reduce rent directly and allow tenants to remain in the same living situation during the pandemic. Those against say expanded rent control would reduce their property values and their income.

Housing is the single largest expense for households in California, and high housing costs disproportionately affect low-income families and people of color. High housing costs squeeze household budgets, meaning less money for child education, family emergencies, food and long-term investments.

Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told the East Bay Times, “Not only do we see increased homelessness, but the affordability crisis has reached epic proportions with many people paying 50 percent or more of their income to keep a roof over their head.”

Yixiang Xu has an 8-year-old son. He moved to the Bay Area alone from Houston two years ago to make more money. Xu did not bring his family because the housing was just too expensive. Xu supports Proposition 21 because he thinks rent control may lower his costs and allow his family to be reunited.

Xu says he misses seeing his son growing up, but he doesn’t see an alternative. “I have to pay at least $4,000 for a fairly decent house near to a school for my son. Spending more than 50 percent of my total income toward housing? I just can’t.”

However, those against Proposition 21 believe a “yes” vote will increase the housing crisis in the long-term and hurt California’s economic recovery during this pandemic, according to the Stanford Business Report.

“In the long run, it results in a housing freeze,” Steven Maviglio of the Californians for Responsible Housing campaign told The Daily Democrat. If the rent control passed, it becomes less profitable for builders to construct more housing and decreases revenue for city and state governments.

Darry Johnson is an activist who is against Proposition 21 even though he rents a home. Johnson believes the housing problem has to go back to its initial need: build more affordable housing; any other solutions will only create another massive shortage of affordable housing in the long term.

“After a tenant moves out, property owners won’t be able to adjust the rent at market rates or pay for investments in repairs or upgrades,” Johnson said. “For example, in San Francisco, someone would get a rent control apartment and they never leave because they will never get a better price again.”

Johnson said that, although demand for housing in California would keep rising, there would be less incentive to build new properties if there was rent control. Proposition 21, Johnson said, would take away basic protections for homeowners and allow regulators to tell single-family homeowners how much they can charge to rent out a single room. “Millions of homeowners will be treated just like corporate landlords,” said Johnson.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced his opposition to Proposition 21 on Sept. 11. Newsom also opposed Proposition 10, a nearly identical measure that went down in defeat in 2018.

“In the past year, California has passed a historic version of statewide rent control – the nation’s strongest rent caps and renter protections in the nation – as well as short-term eviction relief,” the Governor said in a press release. “But Proposition 21, like Proposition 10 before it, runs the all-too-real risk of discouraging availability of affordable housing in our state.”

So far, the Homeowners and Tenants United PAC registered to support the ballot initiative, according to the Ballotpedia. Supporters have raised $24.01 million. Four PACs, including Californians for Responsible Housing, registered to oppose the ballot initiative. The opponents have raised $41.49 million.

Voters will decide on the issue on November 3.

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