California has been at the forefront of a massive housing crisis for years. Unaffordable housing and inadequate support services largely contribute to the growing epidemic of homelessness impacting cities all across the state. Despite multiple attempts at policy reform and financial allocation to remedy the issue, the core of the problem for California seems to be simply attempting to treat the symptoms of chronic homelessness without abolishing its roots.
There are many factors that can account for the rise of homelessness, but few are as consequential as the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act which limits how cities can apply rent control. Currently in Los Angeles, rent control applies to buildings that were constructed before October 1978, leaving newer development projects at risk of rent hikes every time a tenant moves out. Costa-Hawkins helps glide this process, placing restrictions on rent control for major metropolitan cities such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood.
Los Angeles has seen its rent increase at least 3% every year since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. About a third of Californians spend half their income on their rent. Another 3% increase will leave an estimated 1,180 more people homeless, adding to the growing crisis being impacted by high housing costs and low household incomes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five Californians live in poverty. This is unacceptable, and a gross misrepresentation of the progressive values that we claim to uphold for our communities.
Prop 10 is on the ballot for California voters this November, with one of its highlights advocating for the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. The ballot initiative campaign has spent over $60 million pushing for tenant protections and relief from increasing rent hikes by instituting local standards for rent control. “In the midst of the worst housing and homeless crisis that our country has ever seen, how does a bill that restricts local government’s ability to address it go untouched?” asked Damien Goodmon, director of the Yes on 10 campaign. The time for silence on one of the state’s most pressing issues is over.
No, Prop 10 will not immediately solve all of the housing problems across California’s urban areas. It may place many rental units at risk of being taken off the market by landlords in order to be converted to for-sale units, catering to higher income audiences and potentially emboldening gentrification. Despite this risk, it is imperative that local governments provide incentives and act as partners in this process so as not to intimidate landlords and development companies. Prop 10 is a crucial step towards the shared goal of all Californians to have equitable and fair housing options for all of our communities.
California needs more affordable housing, about an average of 320,000 new homes per year to properly address the shortage, but construction projects are simply unable to match the required speed of working at a rate triple their current pace. Supply cannot feasibly meet the demand given our current infrastructure. Strengthening rent control will prove to be the most direct and effective protection measure for renters, providing them with the stability and confidence required to invest back in their communities. Prop 10, however, would not mandate any measures for rent control with its passage, but it would give cities and counties the authority to make those decisions for their own communities. Each city and county is different, with different populations and concerns, so we must grant each locale the freedom to decide how best to alleviate their housing crises.
We must repeal Costa-Hawkins if we can ever hope to take serious action in combating homelessness in our neighborhoods. With a range of support from progressive elected officials and organizations, including tenants’ unions, advocacy groups, and workers’ coalitions, Prop 10 is galvanizing marginalized communities across the state that refuse to be taken advantage of by manipulative landlords any longer.