Part of a Statewide and National movement
By Anna Daniels
If they successfully gather the required 2,225 signatures, the ballot measure will cap annual rent hikes at 5%, enact rules for just cause evictions and establish an independent board to administer and enforce the measure.
National City has become San Diego county’s ground zero for addressing the failures of a market-driven approach to housing and the complicity of elected representatives in that failure. Renters in National City saw a median rent increase of 15% between 2015 and 2016; the City has filed an unusual lawsuit to kill the rent control effort before it reaches the November ballot.
A National Housing Crisis
Issues of homelessness, soaring eviction judgements and the lack of affordable housing have reached crisis levels across the whole country.
The national numbers are scandalous. On any given night, more than half a million homeless men, women, and children sleep on the streets or in shelters. In 2016 alone, according to research by the scholar Matthew Desmond, roughly 900,000 households were subject to eviction judgments. The same year, more than 11 million households spent at least 50 percent of their income, and another 9.8 million spent more than 30 percent, on rent. Nearly half of the nation’s 43 million renting households, then, live with the crushing weight of excessive housing costs.
We have seen these issues play out in San Diego, in both the city and the county. Commissions and task forces have endlessly studied homelessness and the lack of affordable housing; not nearly enough resources have been invested to address these issues; and above all, the remedies thus far have been to do the same old things, just more of them, by more entities.
What Rental Control Does and Doesn’t Do
Rent control is only a partial solution to our housing crisis, but it is a pro-active way to stave off the wholesale gentrification of communities and the displacement of resident populations when that occurs. Although the loss of affordable housing is occurring county-wide, the communities most at risk of gentrification and displacement are low-income, generally ethnically diverse and have a high proportion of renters.
Keeping low-income renters in their homes must be a priority. Instead, we wait for them to be evicted or unable to pay the rent, after which they are forced to live in the streets or their cars and then we provide them a voucher for non-existent affordable housing. Rent control is a way to keep our most vulnerable populations sheltered. It is also a way to keep our communities intact.
It is important to note that there are other things that rent control doesn’t do.
Rent control does not create shortages in housing, although this is supposedly what “economists generally say”.
State law prohibits rent control ordinances from applying to new housing units and requires rent control ordinances include vacancy decontrol. Rent control does not disincentivize new housing construction because new construction is not covered by rent control. Arguments against rent control on grounds that it disincentivizes building are legally inaccurate, misleading, and meritless.
Rent control does not discourage landlords from caring about maintenance or improvements. When landlords do not care about maintenance and improvements, they are slumlords, not victims of regulation.
Rent control furthers tenants’ abilities to assert their existing legal rights. Landlords are legally responsible for maintaining rental units, repairing conditions in a timely manner, and complying with state and local building codes. A local rent control ordinance allows tenants to assert their rights by petitioning for a decrease in rent if a landlord has failed to repair a condition, provide a legally required service, or correct a housing code violation. This is in addition to the rights and remedies a tenant has under state law.
It should come as no surprise that the private sector is prognosticating ruin in the face of rent control and other fair housing ordinances. The private sector has prognosticated ruin when child labor laws were enacted, the minimum wage was raised or taxes have been levied on businesses or the wealthy. Their cynicism is boundless as they couch the ruin in terms of how it hurts the children, or low wage earners. Or that it hurts the renters themselves.
Shelter is a human right, not a free market commodity
Real estate investors, developers, and corporate apartment owner associations are in business to provide goods and services with minimum regulation and maximum profit. They are benefiting from the current boom economy and anti-regulatory political environment. If half of all renters in the country is currently paying thirty to fifty percent of their income on rent, the market has clearly shown itself as incapable or simply unwilling to address housing needs and the continued acceleration of wealth inequality.
Public-private measures such as inclusionary zoning and low-income housing tax credits divert and deplete public resources without substantially addressing the need for affordable housing.
A movement for universal noncommercial housing solutions
There must be a shift to a more robust role for government and support for noncommercial community based organizations such as community development corporations. Rent control is one step toward these solutions. The local effort is part of a state-wide coalition to repeal the real estate industry backed 1995 Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act
Expect a helluva fight on this with millions of dollars pouring into the state from real estate and financial interests. To help cut through the noise, ask yourself “Is shelter a human right or a commodity?”
Anna Daniels was a past board member of the City Heights Community Development Corporation.