Rent Control Is the Road to Stability in CA

Cynthia Davis

Cynthia Davis (Courtesy photo)

Currently, millions of Californians are facing an extreme housing emergency. They are being strangled by rents they cannot afford. We must find an immediate way to stabilize this abhorrent situation. Most Californians agree that more affordable housing is needed, but under the best of circumstances, it will take a considerable amount of time and money to bring relief to the millions of Californians who are burdened by excessive rent or who are homeless.

There are multiple challenges we must consider. First, we need to keep individuals and families in the housing they have now. Secondly, we must prevent the destruction of currently affordable housing. And third, we must produce new low-income housing.

The best way to keep individuals and families in their current homes is to control rent. Under current California law, any apartment built after 1995 is excluded from rent control. Buildings in Los Angeles and San Francisco are exempt from this law going all the way back to 1978 and 1979, respectively. Just think about it; every building in those cities that has been built in the last 46 years cannot be regulated by rent control.

The population of California in 1978 was 23 million. Today, it is more than 39 million which is a 70% increase. This means that none of the housing built in California since 1978 or 1979 for 16 million people, which is 41% of our current population, is covered by rent control. At the same time, developers have converted or destroyed tens of thousands of affordable apartments, turning them into condos or hotels because the Ellis Act allows landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants to change a building’s use. This scenario has led to the current statewide housing crisis in California. 

Relying on the competitive marketplace to supply affordable housing for everyone who needs it has failed us completely. Why would a private developer build units that rent for $500 a month when they can build ones that rent for $5000 a month? The government should come in to require private developers to do both. If developers want permission to build unlimited luxury apartments or condos, then they also must build affordable housing. That’s the right and fair thing to do, especially given the current housing crisis.

So why can’t Californians get more affordable housing built by private developers? Is it because Sacramento is controlled by billionaire landlords and developers? It is pretty obvious that tens of millions of dollars have flowed from Big Real Estate into the coffers of our elected officials, often to oppose rent control.

Additionally, beyond the corrupting influence of Big Real Estate money associated with statewide initiatives and political campaigns, there has been too much outright bribing of politicians based upon backroom deals. Recently, four Los Angeles City council persons were charged or convicted of taking money from developers under the table. Consider this state of affairs as well as the amount of red tape you have to get through to build any type of housing in California in spite of major community support for more low-income housing. It becomes abundantly clear why we are facing this current housing crisis.

Enough is enough. We can’t have more individuals and families displaced by exorbitant rent increases which means we desperately need reasonable rent regulation. We need to drastically expedite the process for building new affordable housing. Most importantly, we need to eliminate Big Real Estate money from our political system.

The housing crisis is not insolvable. If we earnestly begin correcting all of the bad decisions that have been made over the last 30 years, we will be on the road to recovery. However, if we keep doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result, we are just crazy.

Cynthia Davis is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.