California YIMBY Joins Corporate Landlords to Kill Rent Control Measure

Two protesters holding signs that read ‘YIMBY is Gentrification!!!’ and ‘Luxury Housing Helps Poor People’ with a laughing emoji.

California YIMBY has always had a contentious relationship with the housing justice movement, and its opposition to the Yes on 33 Act has been expected.

In a move that doesn’t surprise housing activists, California YIMBY, the land-use lobbying group for Big Tech, has officially opposed the Yes on 33 Act—the November ballot measure that seeks to end statewide rent control restrictions. California YIMBY is effectively joining corporate landlords who are spending millions to kill the initiative—and turning its back on the housing justice organizations, labor unions, and social justice groups that support the Yes on 33 Act.

California YIMBY has always had a contentious relationship with the housing justice movement, and its opposition to the Yes on 33 Act has been expected. For years, the group, founded by Big Tech executives, has aggressively pushed a trickle-down, luxury-housing agenda, saying that the housing affordability crisis can only be solved by flooding the rental housing market with market-rate apartments, which will eventually lower rents for poor and middle- and working-class tenants. YIMBYs disturbingly call the process “filtering,” trying awkwardly to avoid the label of “trickle-down.”

That controversial agenda, which activists say fuels gentrification and displacement in working-class neighborhoods, including communities of color, has also been championed by the real estate industry, which would profit from more luxury apartments with sky-high rents. Big Real Estate, and now California YIMBY, has also used the trickle-down housing argument as a political weapon to kill tenant protections such as rent control. Despite studies that say otherwise, California YIMBY and Big Real Estate claim that rent control will stop housing production and therefore put a kink in the trickle-down effect.

Activists say the “filtering” argument is not only convoluted—more luxury housing for a housing affordability crisis that’s devastating the poor and middle and working class?—but also California YIMBY and corporate landlords continually ignore key studies by the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, and a group of prominent economists that found rent control does not impact the construction of homes. The economists, in a letter to the Biden administration, went so far as to say that the real estate industry’s anti-rent control arguments are outdated and wrong. That goes for California YIMBY’s position, too.

Instead, researchers at USC and UC Berkeley and the economists found that rent control is a key tool to stabilize the housing affordability crisis, backing arguments made by activists. Rent control is especially needed for poor and middle- and working-class tenants who are being hit hardest by excessive rents and face the prospect of homelessness—a major UC San Francisco study found that sky-high rents are fueling the homelessness crisis in California.

In addition, a recent study by Eviction Lab, the prestigious research institute at Princeton University, found that unaffordable rents are linked to higher mortality rates. With lives on the line, activists say, rent control is needed more than ever. California YIMBY and corporate landlords rarely, if ever, mention the Eviction Lab study.

Far different from Big Real Estate’s narrow, self-serving agenda, housing justice organizations, including Housing Is A Human Right, advocate for an urgent, multi-pronged approach to solve the housing affordability and homelessness crises. It’s called the “3 Ps”protect tenants through rent control and other protections; preserve existing affordable housing, not demolish it to make way for luxury housing; and produce new affordable and homeless housing. The 3 Ps, activists say, directly help the tenants who need it the most. California YIMBY, however, has consistently clashed with the housing justice movement over that approach.