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California rent-control limits repeal set for November election

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Supporters of squashing Costa-Hawkins Act say they have enough signatures to make the vote

Backers of a ballot initiative that would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act and expand rent control rules in California say they’ve collected enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot.

According to a press release, supporters of the Affordable Housing Act [AHA] will submit over 565,000 signatures in support of the measure to the state today.

The AHA, announced in October, is the latest in a series of bids to torpedo Costa-Hawkins. Under the act, only homes built before 1995 (or earlier in some cities) are subject to rent control, and cities may not place rent restrictions on any new construction.

That makes rent-controlled units a dwindling and non-renewable resource in cities like San Francisco.

According to San Francisco Housing Data Hub, the city “does not have an official count of rent-controlled units, as units move in and out of rent control and landlords are not required to register rent-controlled units.”

Urban design think tank SPUR estimated in 2014 that San Francisco had “roughly 172,000 units of rent-controlled housing” at the time, roughly 45 percent of the city’s entire housing stock.

An effort to repeal Costa-Hawkins at the state legislature occurred earlier this year, co-sponsored by San Francisco assemblyman David Chiu. The bill failed in committee, falling one vote short after several lawmakers abstained from voting.

Hundreds of Californians line up to argue about Costa-Hawkins at the State Assembly in January.
Adam L Brinklow

Much ado has been made in the last six months about a 2017 paper by Stanford economists concluding that rent control drives up prices in other residential buildings.

However, reading the full paper reveals the researchers also concluded that rent control was the only thing keeping many renters in the city. The study also noted that “absent rent control...all of those incentivized to stay in their [rent-controlled] apartments would have otherwise moved out of San Francisco.”

The act, which is pretty straightforward, reads in part:

The People of the State of California hereby declare the following intent in enacting this Act:

a) To restore authority to California’s cities and counties to develop and implement local policies that ensure renters are able to find and afford decent housing in their jurisdictions. b) To improve the quality of life for millions of California renters and reduce the number of Californians who face critical housing challenges and homelessness. c) To repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.

You can read the full text of the initiative here.

The State Secretary’s office will determine whether or not enough of the collected signatures are valid for the act to make the cut for November’s vote. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today he will join public demonstrations supporting the measure.