Californians Push Rent-Control Initiatives

With housing costs in major California metropolitan areas arguably sky- rocketing faster than New York’s, efforts are underway to put several rent-control initiatives on state and local ballots this November.

The biggest one is a statewide measure to repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prohibits local governments from limiting rent increases on vacant apartments or applying rent controls to housing built after 1995. Organizers need 365,880 valid signatures by June 25 to qualify for the ballot. The campaign said in early March that it had collected more than 250,000.

All but one of the Democratic candidates for governor oppose the initiative, however. At a candidate housing forum in Sacramento Mar. 8, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Treasurer John Chiang said repealing the Costa-Hawkins law could discourage new construction, while former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he would use repeal “as a bargaining chip” to get developers to include lower-cost apartments in luxury developments. Only former state schools chief Delaine Eastin endorsed repeal.

Republican Assemblymember Travis Allen said he’d like to abolish all rent control, saying it leads to “crime” and “slumlords.”

Local activists are also trying to get rent-control measures on the ballot in Sacramento, Santa Cruz, and Long Beach. The Sacramento and Long Beach proposals would require “just cause” for eviction and limit annual rent increases to the rise in the federal Consumer Price Index. The Santa Cruz measure would strengthen a temporary city law that also requires just cause for eviction and limits rent increases to 2 percent a year.