Opinion: Will Gov. Gavin Newsom Please Stand Up for Rent Control in California?

For Rent sign in front of an apartment complex

A rental sign outside a North Park apartment complex. Staff photo

Everyone agrees California is in the midst of an existential housing crisis. Whether it is sprawling homeless encampments, an exodus of people moving to other states, or millions being rent-burdened, the magnitude of the problem is inescapable.

The California dream has been replaced by an unprecedented nightmare. Democrats and Republicans agree.

Yet, year after year, we see no one take meaningful action to address the problem. Yes, politicians give speeches and enact rafts of bills, but the affordable housing crisis only gets more critical. One would think a serious analysis of why things have gone so wrong would ensue, but it never seems to happen.

Here’s the truth: Addressing the housing crisis requires dealing with the systemic roots of the problem. Corporate landlords are extracting so much from the population that they are impoverishing millions and rendering California the poorest state in the union. Big Real Estate is adding billionaires to their ranks while everyday Californians suffer.

How can it be that the home of America’s richest people also is the poorest? How can the state that is the most progressive in many respects allow this to happen?

The answer is simple: Corporate landlords control every lever of power in California. Our own governor is so close to Big Real Estate that he shares a joint spokesperson with the California Apartment Association (CAA), the lead landlord group. Every meaningful pro-renter bill dies early in the legislative process, or the California State Legislature passes a bill that allows 10 percent yearly increases in rents, pretending that it is rent control.

In 1995, California enacted the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act that stripped localities of the ability to expand rent control. Every year, someone introduces a bill to repeal it, and just like clockwork, Big Real Estate pounces and it dies.

Why? Corruption. Sacramento is bought and paid for by Big Real Estate. CAA has bottomless deep pockets. Their corporate vultures have coughed up hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to fight rent control in the legislature and at the ballot box.

Where does this money come from? Exorbitant rents.

How can it be that such a tiny number of billionaires are allowed to cause so much suffering and paralyze policymaking for their own benefit? Because the 17 million renters in California have little influence. Renters are misinformed by splashy ads and politicians who betray them. They get frightened into voting against their own interests.