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California rent control could go before voters in 2020

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Deja vu

Blocky apartment buildings in San Francisco. Via Shutterstock

The housing activist group Housing Is a Human Right—a branch of LA-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF)—said Thursday that it would hold rallies in San Francisco, LA, and San Diego to mark submitting a rent control proposition for the 2020 ballot.

AHF said in April that it would forge ahead with another attempt at expanding rent control across the state.

The group claimed in October that it had gathered around 625,000 signatures supporting the proposal—nearly 2,000 more than needed to qualify. By this week the number swelled to one million.

The Secretary of State’s Office will have to confirm that enough of the signatures are valid before the measure officially goes on the slate for the election.

Dubbed the “Rental Affordability Act” by boosters—the state will confer an official name on the proposition later—the plan would allow cities to put new rent control limits on buildings up to 15 years old.

In July, AHF touted a poll claiming that 75 percent of likely California voters described themselves as “likely to support” a rent control expansion, including 60 percent in the Bay Area.

But although the idea of rent control consistently polls well in the state, actual electoral results rarely reflect this. In 2018, AHF spent millions supporting the previous rent-control expansion, Proposition 10, only for it to fail.

Steven Maviglio, spokesperson for the previous anti-Proposition 10 campaign Californians for Responsible Housing (chiefly the face of the California Apartment Association), derided the new measure in an emailed statement, calling it “a slightly modified version of Prop 10.” He claimed that the previous attempt was “rejected by nearly 40 to 60 percent” of voters.

The actual result of the 2018 vote was 58.4 percent against Prop. 10. The measure proved popular in San Francisco, taking 53 percent of the vote, and in Alameda County with 51.8 percent, but fell well below 50 percent in the rest of the Bay Area and most of the state.

Backers of the new plan suggest that Prop. 10, which sought to undo the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act, was too complicated seeming and predict that this new measure will fare better.

This year saw the first real political win for rent control backers in the state in years with the passage of SF-based Assemblymember David Chiu’s new law capping rent increases on most older buildings.

But AHF didn’t support that legislation at the time, saying that it wasn’t aggressive enough.