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Yes, we’re voting on rent control again this year

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Deja vu

A woman crosses the street with a dog on a leash near Victorian style homes in Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Via Shutterstock

California voters can’t seem to go through a major election cycle without considering rent control expansion throughout the state.

On Monday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that once again the November ballot will ask voters to address the burning question of rent control, and once again the SoCal-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation is behind the drive to do away with decades-old restrictions on rent caps.

Padilla’s office certified that the “Rental Affordability Act” (as backers call it; the state will assign the initiative a name on the final ballot) collected enough verified signatures to appear on the ballot later this year.

If passed, the act would change allow cities to place rent control restrictions on most homes at least 15 years old. The new rules would not apply to landlords who own two or fewer homes.

In San Francisco, most of the city’s rental stock is currently rent controlled, with landlords allowed to raise the rents on existing tenants only a small amount each year.

However, thanks to state law, only SF units built before 1979 are subject to controls; the new law would potentially open up thousands of newer homes for the same protections.

In 2019, SF-based Assemblymember David Chiu passed a rent cap bill that expanded some price controls to more recently built homes.

However, this new November initiative would allow for an even tighter cap on newer homes than that law allows, as cities like SF could “allow a city, county or city and county to exercise any local law controlling the rental rates” to sufficiently old housing stock.

The initiative also includes a provision that limits landlords to a single 15 percent increase on the most recent asking rent over three years for vacant units.

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nonprofit that sponsored the plan, said in a statement that “housing affordability and homelessness are the most pressing social justice and public health emergencies in our time” and called the rent control plan a crucial step in shoring up housing woes.

Sid Lakireddy, president of the California Rental Housing Association, a landlord lobby that claims to represent over 22,000 property owners, assailed the rent control campaign, predicting that “property values will plummet” if it passes.

Weinstein last pushed for rent control reform in 2018 with Proposition 10, which failed by a nearly 2-1 margin. San Francisco was one of few counties that favored the measure.

Weinstein and other backers hope the new campaign will fare better. Generally, the idea of expanding rent control polls well with most California voters, but that hasn’t yet translated into electoral success.