Rent control in California costliest fight on ’18 ballot
The effort is being funded by the quietly powerful AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Los Angelesbased health care nonprofit known for funding controversial ballot measures is waging an expensive battle with the real estate industry over rent control in California.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has poured more than $12 million into a November initiative it’s spearheading to let cities and counties regulate rental fees in buildings that state law currently shields from such control.
A $10 million contribution the foundation reported Wednesday made the initiative the most expensive on the 2018 ballot so far.
Started in 1987 to provide hospice care to AIDS patients, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has grown into a global health care organization similar in size to Planned Parenthood. The group also has waded into politics, bankrolling measures ranging from prescription drug pricing to housing policy, as well as lobbying at the state and federal levels.
Supporters say the rent control measure will protect low-income people from being priced out of their homes, while opponents argue it will decrease housing supply in a state facing a severe shortage.
Opponents have raised $22 million, mostly from rental companies and the California Association of Realtors.
The measure would repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a law that banned rent control on single-family homes and all housing built after Feb. 1, 1995. Costa-Hawkins also prohibits cities and counties from telling landlords what they can charge new renters. Legislative efforts since to expand rent control, including one this legislative session, have failed.
Real estate industry groups and other rent control opponents spent more than $10 million lobbying California officials last year on a Costa-Hawkins repeal bill and other issues.
Tenant groups can’t afford to challenge the industry alone, so they teamed up with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to put the rent-control measure, Proposition 10, on the ballot, said Christina Livingston, executive director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action.
“No matter how much we are able to raise, we are going to be outspent,” Livingston said. “We know that without significant funding that we don’t have much of a fighting chance.”
AIDS Healthcare, which reported nearly $270 million in net assets at the end of 2016, operates clinics and pharmacies around the world. It also brings in money from thrift stores it runs.
Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, in his Los Angeles office overlooking the Hollywood Hills.