"Rent control movements are growing and gaining momentum in California. Whether through the ballot or by lobbying local city councils, tenants increasingly identify as an organized political class fighting to respond to the current housing crisis and to build a powerful tenant-based movement.
However, certain interest groups continue to argue against the efficacy of rent control and just-cause evictions policies. Urban Habitat’s ongoing research on regional shifts in the Bay Area has already pointed to the tremendous hardships that low-income and working-class people face as housing costs spike and they are confronted with unaffordable rents, poor housing conditions, and no-cause evictions. While rent control and just-cause eviction policies are essential to stabilizing communities, a strong current of misinformation threatens the implementation of these vital policies.
The goal of this policy report is to investigate and challenge common arguments against rent control and justcause evictions. Urban Habitat studied rent boards and policy outcomes in Berkeley, Santa Monica, and Richmond to assess the effects of the most robust programs, and to detail the work and resources required for building a new rent board.
Among the brief’s key findings:
Rent control and just-cause evictions policies have protected social and economic diversity in Berkeley and Santa Monica, despite the pressures of vacancy decontrol-recontrol and the Ellis Act.
Policymakers should not assume a positive relationship between landlord profits, and property maintenance and local tax payments. The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board has shown that less than 10% of rent increases went back into the community through reinvestment and taxes.
Rent control and just-cause evictions must be utilized as one prong of a protect, preserve, and produce housing strategy. Rent control and just-cause evictions help preserve affordable housing and protect tenants, but the production of affordable housing remains critical to broader success.
Rent control and just-cause evictions should be understood as anti-displacement measures with implications beyond housing policy. Displacement causes reverberations beyond individuals and families; local school districts, businesses, and governments are negatively affected when their students, employees, and constituents leave abruptly.
Tenant groups and policymakers should work to repeal Costa-Hawkins, which has been the most serious threat to strong rent control since its permanent implementation. New legislation should exempt new construction from rent control, but the “new” designation would expire after a specified number of years, at which point the unit would become subject to rent control" (page 4).
The impacts of the housing crisis in California are intensifying racial and economic inequality. A decade after the Great Recession, many of those who lost their homes to foreclosures are still not able to again become homeowners. The high cost of rent forces Californians to pay for housing with income they could otherwise put toward education, retirement, investments, and other productive uses that increase economic opportunity. It compounds the difficulty in becoming a homeowner by making it more challenging to save resources for a down payment on a home. Bottom line: the crisis does not just harm the people overburdened by housing costs, it is harmful to the very fabric and well-being of the larger communities.
The housing crisis stands in stark contrast to Californians' widely-held inclusive values and broad support for equitable policy. In a recent survey of Californians’ views, two-thirds of residents agreed with the statement, “We are all in this together. If some people are in poverty or struggling, we need to work together to alleviate the problem and help each other.”1
Yet the housing affordability crisis is putting these values to the test. Housing costs are largely responsible for California having the highest poverty rate in the nation when factoring in the cost of living. One out of five Californians are in poverty.2 Many Californians faced with unaffordable rents have to move involuntarily, pushed to the fringes of our communities if they are even able to stay in California at all.
In a deeper sense, this crisis is about who belongs— who has the ability and right to stay in their community. It is also about the consequences of othering—what Californians as a whole stand to lose if we turn our backs, displace, and exclude certain members of our society—for how we live everyday. The crisis threatens our collective ability to thrive, our progress, and vision for a fair society—the very core of what makes California what it is. It raises the question of how we can create true belonging—structural inclusion where institutions and policies meet and are responsive to people's needs. - page 4