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Rent control will appear on California’s November ballot

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A similar measure—seeking to expand rent control in California cities—was on the ballot in 2018

With some exception for single-family homes and condos, the initiative would would give cities and counties the choice to apply rent control to any residential property that has been open for at least 15 years.
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Among the choices California voters will make at the ballot box this year: Should the state roll back restrictions that curb rent control?

An initiative called the “Rental Affordability Act,” which would give cities such as Long Angeles the option to apply rent control to more buildings, has qualified for the November ballot, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Monday.

The initiative is backed by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which unsuccessfully launched a similar ballot measure two years ago. With the gap between housing costs and incomes reaching “epic proportions” in California, foundation president Michael Weinstein says the new “initiative represents our long-term determination to affect the plight of renters.”

Many California renters are covered either by local rent control policies or a new state rent control law that went into effect in January. The new referendum is largely aimed at helping renters in cities that have local rent control policies, including the cities of Los Angeles, Culver City, Inglewood, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.

It would unravel Costa Hawkins, a 1995 California law that muffles those local rent control policies. Costa Hawkins bars cities from placing newer apartments under rent control, and it protects a property owner’s right to raise rent to market rate once a tenant moves out.

If the ballot measure were to pass, cities could choose to apply rent control to newer buildings. Right now, under Costa Hawkins, the cut off for most cities is 1995, or 25 years But in some places the cutoff date is even older; in the city of Los Angeles, it’s October 1, 1978.

If the measure were to pass and Los Angeles acted immediately to take advantage of it, rent control rules could apply to buildings as new as those that opened in 2005.

The types of buildings that are subjected to rent control would also be expanded. Right now, Costa Hawkins exempts single-family homes and condos. (But if the initiative were to pass, the owners of one or two homes would remain exempt from any rent control laws, as would owners of individual condos.)

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which Weinstein founded in 1990 to provide medical care to AIDS patients, has grown increasingly involved in housing, density, and land-use issues.

In 2016, it put a measure on the ballot in the Los Angeles to freeze large-scale development projects citywide. Voters rejected that measure by a wide margin.

In 2018, it drafted and sponsored Proposition 10, a statewide ballot measure to expand rent control that was also soundly defeated. The new initiative closely resembles Proposition 10.

The California Rental Housing Association is vowing to defeat the ballot measure again, and says the solution to opening up California’s ultra-expensive housing market to the financially-strapped is to find solutions that make affordable housing easier to build.

“The Michael Weinstein Redux Initiative is one that voters soundly rejected in November 2018,” CalRHA president Sid Lakireddy said in a statement. “This initiative means property values will plummet, reducing property tax revenue, and renters will have less access to quality rental stock when owners don’t invest back into the property.”

But René Christian Moya, director of Housing Is A Human Right, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s housing advocacy division, says that with enough education and with “the enthusiasm” that launched the Proposition 10 campaign, he’s confident that voters can be convinced that “rent control is necessary, rent control works, and rent control works fast to protect communities.”

When launching the initiative in April, Weinstein acknowledged the 2018 campaign was confusing to voters, many of whom, he said, didn’t know what a “yes” vote meant.

The emphasis now, he says, will be less on Costa Hawkins and more on rent control and affordability.