New life for bid to keep rent in check

Democrats in­tro­duce bills to cap in­creases statewide

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Alexei Kos­eff

SACRA­MENTO — The push to ex­pand rent con­trol in Cal­i­for­nia re­turned to life in the Leg­is­la­ture on Thurs­day, just months af­ter state vot­ers over­whelm­ingly re­jected an ini­tia­tive that would have re­moved bar­ri­ers to new ten­ant pro­tec­tion laws.

A group of Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors in­tro­duced bills to cap an­nual rent in­creases statewide, pre­vent evic­tions with­out just cause and re­turn to cities the au­thor­ity to adopt rent con­trol or­di­nances for newer homes and apart­ments.

Sup­port­ers said ur­gent ac­tion is needed to ad­dress what has be­come a statewide emer­gency, as fam­i­lies face soar­ing hous­ing prices and the prospect of home­less­ness. About half of Cal­i­for­nia rent-

er house­holds spend more than 30 per­cent of their in­come on shel­ter, which ex­perts con­sider to be a cost bur­den, ac­cord­ing to U.S. cen­sus es­ti­mates. More than a quar­ter spend at least half their in­come on hous­ing.

“The rent is too damn high. It’s time for us to act,” As­sem­bly­man David Chiu, DSan Fran­cisco, said at a Capi­tol news con­fer­ence.

The state strictly lim­ited rent con­trol prac­tices in 1995 with the pas­sage of the CostaHawkins Rental Hous­ing Act, which pro­hib­ited lo­cal gov­ern­ments from im­pos­ing price caps on apart­ments built af­ter the law took ef­fect or on sin­gle-fam­ily homes and con­do­mini­ums. It also banned cities from lim­it­ing prices when a unit be­comes va­cant.

Fol­low­ing a $100 mil­lion cam­paign, largely driven by real es­tate de­vel­op­ers and man­age­ment com­pa­nies, nearly 60 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers op­posed a Novem­ber bal­lot mea­sure to undo CostaHawkins and give com­mu­ni­ties more flex­i­bil­ity on rent con­trol. Op­po­nents ar­gued that the mea­sure would dis­cour­age con­struc­tion of rental hous­ing at a time when sup­ply is tight in many cities.

De­spite the ini­tia­tive’s de­feat, Gov. Gavin New­som told law­mak­ers in his State of the State ad­dress last month, “Get me a good pack­age on rent sta­bil­ity this year and I will sign it.”

The mea­sures that Democrats un­veiled Thurs­day would roll back pieces of Costa-Hawkins while leav­ing the broader law in place. Many of the de­tails must still be worked out through the leg­isla­tive process.

AB36, by As­sem­bly­man Richard Bloom, D-Santa Mon­ica, would al­low cities to en­act rent con­trol on post-1995 build­ings that are more than a decade old. It also would clear the way for cities to limit rent in­creases on sin­gle-fam­ily homes and con­do­mini­ums more than 10 years old. It in­cludes an ex­emp­tion for land­lords who own just one or two units and does not touch the ban on price caps for va­cant units.

Bloom said the changes could pro­vide im­me­di­ate re­lief for renters dur­ing the many years it will take for more hous­ing to be built in Cal­i­for­nia. He added that he is in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Cal­i­for­nia Apart­ment As­so­ci­a­tion and other land­lord groups to avoid a re­peat of last year’s cam­paign slugfest. The AIDS Health­care Foun­da­tion in Los An­ge­les, which sup­plied most of the money in fa­vor of the un­suc­cess­ful rent con­trol ini­tia­tive, has floated the pos­si­bil­ity of try­ing again in 2020.

“There is an un­der­stand­ing on both sides of this is­sue that the cri­sis has not, is not and will not go away un­til we act in var­i­ous ways,” Bloom said.

Tom Ban­non, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Cal­i­for­nia Apart­ment As­so­ci­a­tion, said in a state­ment that the pro­pos­als an­nounced Thurs­day “would only worsen our hous­ing short­fall.”

“We need to en­cour­age new hous­ing, not cre­ate poli­cies that sti­fle its cre­ation,” he said. “It’s time that law­mak­ers heed the will of vot­ers and fo­cus on poli­cies that would cre­ate the homes that Cal­i­for­nia’s work­ing fam­i­lies need.”

Chiu’s AB1482 would pre­vent land­lords across the state from rais­ing rents by more than an un­spec­i­fied per­cent­age above in­fla­tion each year. Chiu said he is fig­ur­ing out a cap that would help a broad swath of renters while still al­low­ing land­lords to earn a re­turn on their in­vest­ments.

AB1481, by As­sem­bly­man Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, would for­bid land­lords from evict­ing their tenants with­out a valid rea­son.

These mea­sures are sim­i­lar to a law passed last month in Ore­gon, which be­came the first state to en­act univer­sal rent con­trol. It largely lim­its an­nual rent in­creases to 7 per­cent­age points above in­fla­tion and bans no-cause evic­tions for tenants who have lived at a prop­erty for more than a year.

An­other bill, by Assem­bly­woman Buffy Wicks, D-Oak­land, would re­quire all land­lords to reg­is­ter their rental units with state hous­ing of­fi­cials and an­nu­ally re­port the amount of rent they charge, the num­ber of evic­tions and the length of va­can­cies. Wicks said AB724 would help the state in draw­ing up rental poli­cies.

Elsa Stevens, 65, a for­mer care­giver from Rich­mond, came to the Capi­tol to show her sup­port for the leg­is­la­tion. She and her hus­band live in af­ford­able se­nior hous­ing and spend 40 per­cent of their monthly So­cial Se­cu­rity and dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits on rent.

When her land­lord no­ti­fied them last year that rents would go up 12 per­cent, Stevens said, tenants per­suaded the man­age­ment com­pany to lower it to 3 per­cent. But with med­i­ca­tion and other health care costs eat­ing up a large chunk of her bud­get, she said, an­other big in­crease would price her out of her apart­ment.

“Se­nior cit­i­zens shouldn’t have to live with the con­stant fear of food in­se­cu­rity and the con­stant fear of home­less­ness,” Stevens said. “We could use some re­lief.”

Paul Chinn / The Chron­i­cle 2018

Sasha Gra­ham (left) of Rich­mond joins other tenants rights ad­vo­cates at a Capi­tol hear­ing on rent con­trol in June 2018.

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