How the west was won–California leading the way on rent control

by Sharisse Tracey | February 10, 2020 12:02 pm

Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

On the heels of learning that Southern California residents now need to earn over  $100,000 a year to purchase a median two-bedroom home costing over half million dollars in Los Angeles County, the Golden State made this Pasadena native proud by being the second state in the country to approve a statewide rent cap. Oregon, another west coast state, was the first. Let’s hear it for the west coast.

According to a recent New York Times article, in February 2019, Oregon lawmakers became the first to pass statewide rent control, limiting increases to 7 percent annually plus inflation. New York, with Democrats newly in control of the State Legislature, strengthened rent regulations governing almost one million apartments in New York City.

This is one of the first tangible marks in the recent outpouring of voices to address an affordable housing crisis throughout our country. 

“For the first time in recent memory, affordable housing is a topic on the presidential campaign trail,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

With this California law, annual rent increases will be held to five percent after inflation. There are also more barriers to discourage property owners and landlords from evicting their tenants. California currently has the nation’s highest housing prices only to be outdone by its bursting homeless communities. Skid row in Los Angeles, perhaps one of the most known and spoken about homeless communities, is only one of many tent cities throughout the state.  If ever California residents needed housing security, it is now, and this new law will help to make some of its residents feel more stable.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, known as one of our most liberal governors, in his first year in office made tenant protection a priority. It’s estimated that over eight million California residents that currently rent apartments and houses will be affected by the rent-control law. Tenants groups, landlord associations and California’s Business Roundtable – which supports the state’s top employers – are all behind the new law. This is indicative of how severe the housing and homeless crisis is in the golden state.

“The housing crisis is reaching every corner of America, where you’re seeing high home prices, high rents, evictions and homelessness that we’re all struggling to grapple with,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat who sponsored the rent-control legislation. “Protecting tenants is a critical and obvious component of any strategy to address this.”

Over the past fifty years, more Americans are renting instead of buying, yet only four states — California, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — have some type of rent control, along with the District of Columbia. Change must occur. 

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, nationally, about a quarter of tenants pay more than half their income in rent. And in California the state poverty rate hovers slightly over 18 percent, presenting the state with unique challenges.  

Studies show that rent-control policies effectively help to shield low-income and older tenants from evictions and rent hikes.

“Caps on rent increases, like the one proposed in California or the one recently passed in Oregon, are part of a new generation of rent-regulation policies that are trying to thread the needle by offering some form of protection against egregious rent hikes for vulnerable renters without stymieing much-needed new housing construction,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, research director at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California.

Every state in America needs to adapt some kind of rent control policy and they can use the west coast states, with some of the most staggering numbers on housing availability and a saturated homeless population, as an example on how to get it done.

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