Prop. 10’s defeat in the 2018 election has not dampened enthusiasm for a statewide rent control measure. Despite the resounding defeat of Prop. 10 in last November’s election—the initiative lost in all but one of the state’s 58 counties, with only San Franciscans giving it majority support—original sponsor Michael Weinstein and his Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation are back for another try.

This time, his proposal for a new rent control measure on the November 2020 ballot doesn’t seek to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, the state law passed in 1995 that limits the type of rent control that cities and counties can impose, bars them from capping rents on housing built after it took effect, capping prices when a unit becomes vacant, and imposing rent control on single-family dwellings and condos.

What’s Different This Time?

This time, advocates of statewide rent control are taking a different approach. The proposed 2020 ballot measure, entitled the “Rental Affordability Act”, is a scaled-back version of Prop. 10 with exact wording still being written.  In the initiative’s official “Request for Preparation of Title and Summary,” the Rental Affordability Act has the following purposes and intent.  “To:

  1. Allow California cities and counties to develop and implement policies that ensure renters can find and afford rental housing in their jurisdictions.
  2. Improve the quality of life for millions of California renters and reduce the number of Californians who face critical housing challenges and homelessness.
  3. Stem the tide of evictions and displacement affecting communities across California.
  4. Allow a city, county, or city and county to exercise any local law controlling the rental rates for residential property provided that it has been at least 15 years since the property received its certificate of occupancy.
  5. Allow local laws to control rental rates following a vacancy while permitting a landlord to increase the rental rates on a vacated unit by no more than 15% over the subsequent three years in addition to any other increases allowed under a local ordinance
  6. Exempt owners of one or two residential dwellings from any local rent control law.”

Weinstein believes this iteration will fare better because it exempts new buildings, allows a fair rate of return (supposedly), and distinguishes between large corporate landlords and “mom-and-pops” by exempting property owners with only one or two units. The measure would still allow cities to impose rent control on single-family homes and condos, as Prop. 10 did, but only if the owner has three or more homes.

Weinstein’s strategy Prop. 10 lost by a 19-point margin. That’s huge, but not an insurmountable hurdle according to Prop. 10’s sponsors.  Rent control advocates believe they can move 9.5% of the California electorate from the NO to the YES column, allowing a statewide rent control measure to pass for the first time. The state has 17 million renters. With the level of discussion and interest in rent control as intense as it is, coupled with the Governor’s own interest in a “Costa-Hawkins compromise,” they believe that the 2020 ballot measure would stand a good chance of passing. In fact, Governor Newsom has declared that he intends to deal with rent control “right away.” René Christian Moya, director of Housing Is A Human Right, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s housing advocacy division, says: “I’m confident that voters can be convinced that rent control is necessary, rent control works, and rent control works fast to protect communities.”

We’ll see if the electoral result will be any different in 2020. Weinstein has the money, as does his AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provided most of the $26 million spent to launch Prop. 10 version 1.0 in 2018.

Opponents, including SPOSFI, collectively raised three times that much to defeat Prop. 10. This time around, the stakes are just as high, as advocates of statewide rent control continue doggedly chipping away at Costa-Hawkins one legislative measure at a time.

Gideon Kramer is SPOSFI’s News Editor.  Reprinted with permission of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.  For more information on becoming a member of SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation, please visit their website at www.smallprop.org or call (415) 647-2419.