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New rent control measure set for 2020 California ballot

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“Rental affordability act” would allow rent control on some homes built as recently as 2005

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Rent control boosters have suffered setbacks in recent years, seeing attempts to undo the state’s 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act fail in both the legislature and at the ballot box.

But they’re gearing up for a new fight now, as the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF)—the same non-profit currently mired in a fight with State Sen. Scott Wiener about the California transit-housing bill—announced Monday that it will put forth a new rent control measure for voters in 2020.

Via email, AHF’s housing campaign, dubbed “Housing Is a Human Right,” announced late Sunday that they had “filed papers with the California Attorney General’s office for Title and Summary for the ‘Rental Affordability Act,’ which will allow rent control on buildings over 15 years old.”

Under current law, rent control is allowed only on San Francisco homes built before 1979. The cutoff date varies between different California cities, but no home built after 1995 in any city may be subject to rent control as it stands.

AHF says that people who own two or fewer homes will be exempt from the new law if it passes. Newly rent-controlled homes could raise rents “no more than 15 percent over the subsequent three years in addition to any other increase allowed under a local ordinance.”

Correspondence from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra confirmed that the state has received AHF’s request.

Curbed LA reports that during a Monday press call, foundation president Michael Weinstein said, “I think the most obvious question that may be on peoples’ mind is [...] why are we doing this again?”

Weinstein believes that the previous bid to expand rent control at the ballot box, 2018’s Proposition 10, was confusing, and that voters will back a more straightforward measure with less sweeping implications.

Election polling consistently showed that most California voters prefer rent control and supported the idea of expanding it. Despite this intel, Proposition 10 polled poorly and lost 52.8-47 percent.

[Correction: Prop 10 actually lost by nearly 19 points.]

After the announcement, Sid Lakireddy, president of the California Rental Housing Association, issued a statement condemning the measure, saying, “It has been proven time and again that rent control does not work” and praising Senate Bill 50 instead.

The question of whether rent control works is a divisive one. An oft-cited 2018 paper by Stanford economists found that rent control measures in SF drove up rents in non-rent-control units and increased the danger of eviction, but also found that rent control was the only thing keeping thousands of people from being priced out of San Francisco entirely.