Affordable-Housing Initiative Set to Appear on November Ballot

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Californians will vote this November on whether to grant cities more power to enact rent control after petitioners garnered enough signatures across the state to put it on the general election ballot.

The measure – called the Affordable Housing Act – is a statewide ballot initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state bill that limits California cities’ and other jurisdictions’ power to enact rent control.

A coalition of housing advocates behind the campaign to repeal Costa-Hawkins gathered on Monday at the campaign’s headquarters in Los Angeles to celebrate the more than 594,000 signatures collected from all 58 counties in the state.

The campaign has garnered support from state unions, community organizations and state leaders such as Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Mike Bonin. Celebrities, including actors Jesse Williams and Angela Bassett, also supported the measure.

“There are highs and lows in every campaign,” campaign director Damien Goodman said on Monday. “When there are highs, you should celebrate them.”

Michael Weinstein, president and co-founder of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which financially backed the campaign, said advocates could expect the “full force of the real estate industry” to oppose the measure.

“We are shaking the foundations of the establishment in California,” Weinstein said. “You will hear lies and distortions about this effort.”

The campaign was largely sparked by advocates who predicted that the state legislator would not simply bring forward legislation that granted rent control and other affordable housing measures to state residents.

As the campaign had calculated, the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed to pass Assembly Bill 1506 out of committee in January, which would have also repealed Costa-Hawkins.

“We thought Sacramento would fail us,” Damien said.

“The state Legislature is bought and paid for by the real estate industry,” Weinstein said.

In a statement opposing the Affordable Housing Act, the California Association of Realtors said it “understands that, however well-intentioned, rent control is nothing more than a thinly-veiled version of government-mandated price control that doesn’t work.”

Both San Francisco and Los Angeles have rent control policies that have done little, if anything, to rein in housing and rental costs, according to CAR.

“Mandating artificial prices for rental units won’t fix the state’s housing supply and affordability crisis. It only reduces the supply of rental properties and creates an economic hardship for low-income and disadvantaged families,” CAR president Steve White said. “The solution to this affordability problem is to expand the housing stock in California, not introduce price ceilings.”

Steven Maviglio, director of Californians for Responsible Housing – the campaign to defeat the rent control initiative – called the ballot measure an “anti-housing agenda” that will cause a freeze in new housing construction in the state.

“This measure would stop the construction of new affordable housing across the state and make many of the problems it claims to address worse,” Maviglio said. “This measure will not only deepen California’s housing crisis, but lower property values of rental properties and single-family homes.”

When the Secretary of State’s office confirmed Friday that the measure made it onto the ballot, it included a brief comment from the state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst on the potential fiscal impact of the measure on state and local government.

The analyst said there are “unknown, but potentially significant, changes in state and local government tax revenues” and that there would likely be a net decrease rather than net increase in revenues.

There are also potential increases in local government costs by “up to tens of millions of dollars per year in the long term, likely paid by fees on owners of rental housing,” the analyst said.

The California Senate Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Committee on Housing and Community Development will hold a joint hearing on AB 1506 on Thursday. The coalition said it is sending a bus load of advocates up to the state Capitol for the meeting.

Goodman said he is confident voters will return power in November to local communities to expand rent control.

“The time for rent gouging by corporate landlords is coming to an end,” he said.

Rohan Sabnis of Culver City sat with other advocates at the celebratory event. He said he got involved in the campaign after meeting people who’d received eviction notices in his neighborhood.

Other neighbors left the community when new owners dramatically increased the rent – a $300 increase in the span of four months, in one case – when they took over their buildings.

Sabnis’ own rent has continued to rise every year since he moved in.

“So far, I’ve been able to keep up with the increase every year,” Sabnis said. “But it gets harder every year.”

If he can’t bear the weight of new increases, moving out of Los Angeles – perhaps to more affordable areas in San Fernando Valley – has crossed Sabnis’ mind once or twice, he said.

Sabnis is one of the millions of people who have struggled in some way with rising housing costs.

Fifty-five percent of LA County residents said they, a close friend or family member have considered moving from their neighborhood in the last few years due to rising housing costs, according to the University of California at Los Angeles 2018 Quality of Life Index.

Researchers, who published the index on April 19, said the response represents an 8 percent increase from the 2017 Index.

The fears are more palpable among younger respondents. Sixty-eight percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, 73 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds, and 65 percent of 40- to 49-year-olds say that they or someone close to them has considered moving out of their neighborhoods due to housing costs.

The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office said in a report that California lost 1 million residents to domestic migration from 2007 to 2016. Statewide, median home prices have increased $120,000 over the last three years; in Southern California the median price is over $500,000.

With nearly 20 percent of Californians living near the poverty line according to the Public Policy Institute of California – the highest in the nation – owning a home has become unattainable for many in the nation’s most populous state.

Cities across the state have addressed the affordable housing shortage crisis through a mix of policies and funding initiatives.

Los Angeles council members passed a resolution May 29 in support of SB 912 – introduced by Sens. Jim Beall and Nancy Skinner – which would allocate $2 billion in one-time grants for cities, counties and non-profits to immediately house the homeless and low-income families at risk of homelessness.

$1 billion would be allocated toward new construction, home rehabilitation and preservation of housing for people with incomes up to 60 percent of the area median income.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development stated there is a 3.5 million unit shortage in housing for the lowest income households, according to the resolution.

The remaining $1 billion would be allocated as one-time grants to cities and counties for housing construction and shelters for homeless individuals and families.

The California Secretary of State’s office confirmed on Friday that the measure had enough signatures to get on the ballot.

The measure would allows for policies that would limit the rental rates that residential-property owners may charge for new tenants, new construction, and single-family homes.

It also provides, within the scope of state law, rent-control policies that may not violate landlords’ right to a fair financial return on their rental property.

Goodman called the campaign victory a first step in a larger campaign to make living in the state more affordable for working people.

“The rent is too damn high, but with your support, relief is on the way,” Goodman said.

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