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Long Beach coalition gathering signatures for rent control ballot measure

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Voters could weigh in on rent control in several Southern California cities

Aerial of Long Beach
A Long Beach coalition has until July 30 to gather over 27,000 signatures to qualify a rent control measure for the November ballot.
Trekandshoot | Shutterstock

Tenant advocates in Long Beach on Sunday kicked off efforts to put a plan for citywide rent control before voters in the upcoming November election.

The effort hinges on a proposed ballot measure that would cap yearly rent hikes for most apartments built before 1995 at 5 percent or lower and establish a citywide Rental Housing Board, which would be funded through fees charged to landlords.

The coalition of community groups that proposed the measure gathered at MacArthur Park in Central Long Beach to promote the effort and recruit volunteers to help collect petition signatures. They’ll have until July 30 to gather 27,462 signatures (representing 10 percent of registered voters in Long Beach) in order to make the initiative eligible for the November ballot.

Josh Butler, director of Housing Long Beach, tells Curbed he’s optimistic about the coalition’s chances of success.

“It’s been uplifting to have conversations with people around town,” he says. “People feel like this is going to give them a reason to go out and vote for something that will give them immediate relief.”

He points to the city’s 20 percent poverty rate and low percentage of homeowners as evidence that new policies are needed to assist tenants.

“Right now, Long Beach has no renter protections at all,” says Butler.

The efforts of the Long Beach coalition are part of a broader movement throughout the region for greater renter protections. Right now, only a few cities in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood, have rent control laws on the books.

That could soon change; advocates have proposed ballot measures similar to the Long Beach initiative in Inglewood and Pasadena. At the state level, a ballot measure backed by tenant groups and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation seeks to repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which sets strict limits on the types of rent control laws that California cities can establish.

Long Beach resident Tracy Bell was gathering petition signatures Sunday. She tells Curbed she’s been evicted twice after reporting problems with her apartment to property managers. Now, she says that she’s afraid to speak up about leaks and mold at her current building.

“I can’t afford to move anywhere else,” she says.

Bell says the city needs “just cause” eviction requirements proposed in the new ballot measure that would protect tenants from arbitrary or unfair evictions.

Similar to rules included in Los Angeles’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, the “just cause” regulations would require landlords to show that tenants are at fault (through failure to pay rent, lease violations, and other issues)—or that they plan to move into an apartment or take it off the rental market entirely—when removing renters from a unit.

Though the rent control coalition just began gathering signatures this week, members have already been receiving pushback from organizations and individuals opposed to the plan.

The California Apartment Association, a trade group that represents property owners, promised last month to “lead a coalition to defeat any price control measure” being considered by the city.

Butler also says he’s seen flyers around the city with claims about rent control’s negative effects.

In a recent study, for example, Stanford economists Rebecca Diamond and Tim McQuade argued that San Francisco’s rent control policies had actually contributed to the area’s skyrocketing cost of rent over the last two decades.

The idea that rent control would have negative impacts on tenants was echoed loudly by a small group of protestors at the Long Beach coalition’s Sunday kickoff event. “Rent control is a bad idea,” one demonstrator said through a megaphone.

Butler brushes off these criticisms, saying that correlation between high rents and rent control policies is not the same as causation.

Rents are going up everywhere,” he says. “Not just in cities with rent control.”

Butler says new rules are necessary to prevent displacement and to keep neighborhoods from splintering. “How do you place a value on people who have lived in a community for 40 years?” he asks.