Commentary: This is how to bring down California rents

By Mike Weinstein

Rents are falling rapidly in San Francisco as landlords and others flee the city en masse. Prices never have returned to pre-2020 levels.

Is this good news for tenants? Perhaps in the short run, but it is a disaster in the long run. Relying on the market to lower rents, based on mass departures, is utter folly. 

The more middle-income people leave the city and shrink the tax base, the heavier the burden for remaining taxpayers who must bear the cost of the city’s neediest residents. 

San Francisco’s inability to address its affordable housing crisis will discourage new residents from moving to the Bay Area, weakening the city’s long-term prospects.

Despite the fact that vacancies are increasing, it doesn’t bring rents for much of the housing stock down since corporate developers would rather keep units vacant than lower rents and thus have to mark down the value of these buildings. 

When apartments become a tradable commodity rather than a necessity, everyone suffers.

Across our state, the greed of a few corporate developers is destroying the quality of life for everyone. And it is only getting worse.

The various band-aids that have been applied to stop the bleeding are failing miserably. Without rent control, developers are only incentivized to build for the maximum profit that luxury buildings provide. 

Rather than seeing housing as a public utility that gives owners a fair return, corporate vultures are bound to pursue outsized profits—adding more yachts to their portfolio.

Ultra-rich corporate executives like Barry Altshuler, who serves as president of the California Apartment Association’s (CAA) board of directors, have amassed tens of billions of dollars in net worth because they are primarily concerned with self-enrichment. 

They couldn’t care less about the affordable housing and homelessness crises. And they are fighting rent control because it hurts their bottom line.

Californians are at a fork in the road. We can’t have it both ways. If we continue to place the needs of corporate developers above the average person, the human misery on our streets will get worse and the demands on our tax base will become unbearable.

Why should the needs of the one-tenth of 1% take precedent over our whole state? Because corporate real estate maintains an iron grip on California politicians.

The avalanche of CAA money going into politics and lobbying has guaranteed that rent control will die in every session of the legislature and that hundreds of millions of dollars will flow into killing it at the ballot box. The status quo may seem hopeless, but it isn’t.

California voters will have yet another chance to right this wrong in November. A broad coalition of labor unions and housing right advocates, known as the “Yes on 33” movement, will once again ask for your vote to allow local communities to enact rent control. 

You can be the change that California desperately needs, expanding rent control statewide and bringing prices down.

 If, like the majority of California voters, you are a homeowner, why should you care? Because the affordable housing and homelessness crises are destroying the quality of life in our Golden State and with that will come a drop in property values.