(CN) – In less than three weeks, California’s 19 million voters will decide a slate of midterm ballot measures aimed at easing the state’s affordable-housing crisis, but not all initiatives may bring residents the relief they seek.
California’s rate of home-building hasn’t kept up with a booming economy and a surge in population, resulting in a drastic shortage of homes and apartments and soaring housing costs.
The crisis has left more than 130,000 Californians homeless.
In response, affordable housing and tenant-rights advocates – backed by $22 million from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation – garnered enough signatures to place the Affordable Housing Act on the statewide ballot.
Known as Proposition 10, the measure would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Passed in 1995, Costa-Hawkins limits cities and counties from imposing rent control.
Proponents say the measure could stem the rise of homelessness in the state by protecting renters from spikes in housing costs.
Sylvie Shain of Los Angeles, a volunteer with the campaign to pass Proposition 10 and a previously evicted renter, said while she agrees more homes need to be built in the long term, she supports rent control because it can provide relief now for some people now.
“People are being driven out onto the streets and losing their social safety nets,” Shain said, adding her turbulent experience with eviction threw her off-balance. “[Rent control] is one of the most immediate tools at our disposal to spot the bleeding.”
With nearly 20 percent of Californians living near the poverty line according to the Public Policy Institute of California – the most in the nation – an affordable apartment or owning a home has become unattainable for many in the nation’s most populous state.
In 2016, 1 in 5 California households used more than half of their incomes for housing, according to a California Budget & Policy Center analysis of U.S Census Bureau data.
If approved by voters, Proposition 10 would allow cities to pass laws to limit rent increases for single-family rental homes, apartments built after 1995 and apartments turning over to new tenants.
Under the measure, cities could also block landlords from raising rents to market levels once a tenant moves out, a practice known as vacancy decontrol.
The Budget & Policy Center analysis notes Proposition 10 “would not force landlords to rent out units at a loss,” adding that in cities with rent control – including Oakland, Santa Monica and Mountain View – landlords are offered incentives such as a higher rent ceiling.
Some local jurisdictions already have power to limit rent increases in older housing units not covered by Costa-Hawkins, which make up 50 percent of existing rentals in California.
Additionally, rent control would not automatically extend to all cities across the state.
Advocates will have to organize city-by-city to enact rent control laws and educate renters on what those laws mean for them according to Pete White, executive director at Los Angeles Community Action Network.
“When the cameras go dark, that’s when the work happens,” White said at a ballot analysis event by the California Budget and Policy Center held this month.
The center’s analysis of Proposition 10 indicates rent control alone won’t solve the state’s housing crisis – state and local investment is needed to increase construction of affordable rental units – though the measure could provide much needed relief to renters now.