Unpacking Costa-Hawkins repeal.
By Terra Graziani and Elana Eden
In recent weeks, you may have heard that California voters overwhelmingly support rent control but are hesitant about Proposition 10, the ballot measure to allow the expansion of rent control around the state. Confused? Follow the money. You’ll find that, despite the best efforts of a targeted campaign to confuse the vote, the people of California — housing advocates, teachers, nurses, unions, affordable housing developers, civil rights activists, Democrats, and more — know that we need to get out the vote and pass Prop 10.
As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, the core opposition to Prop 10 is a small group of Trump advisers, billionaire developers, and corporate investors who have spent over $70 million on a far-reaching voter confusion campaign. These powerful interests are not concerned with making housing affordable. Their interest is in their bottom line — and they profit from high housing costs.
Invitation Homes, the largest owner of single-family rentals in the country, reports that it intentionally keeps homes vacant in order to drive up demand and prices. Blackstone — the largest real-estate private equity firm in the world, led by former Trump advisor Stephen Schwarzman — buys up foreclosed homes to raise rents. Developer Geoff Palmer is infamous in Los Angeles for forcing the city to drop its affordable housing requirements, and was the single biggest donor to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. These are the people spending millions to oppose even the chance of moderate relief for California renters — and they would have you believe that they’re the victims.
But California’s current rental housing policies are largely shaped by the real-estate industry’s attempts to quash renters’ rights. In the 1970s, a thriving tenant movement saw President Nixon issue a temporary rent freeze. Los Angeles, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica adopted rent stabilization ordinances, putting caps on rent increases. In the Bay, Berkeley and San Francisco soon followed suit.
The backlash was fierce and coordinated. First, the Apartment Association sponsored Prop 13 — a tax control for property owners — promising that landlords would stop raising rents if their costs were reduced. They didn’t. A few years later, the real estate lobby successfully pushed through the Ellis Act, a gaping loophole to eviction protections that advocates rightly predicted would skyrocket evictions and the conversion of affordable housing into luxury. And in 1995, the lobby passed the now infamous Costa-Hawkins Act — barring the expansion of existing rent control laws and severely limiting future ones.
Here’s where we are now. Just 19 out of 482 California cities have basic tenant protections in place. In the vast majority of the state, tenants are exposed to arbitrary, unlimited rent increases and can be kicked out of their homes for no reason at all. And as gentrification sweeps cities across the nation, more and more renters are at the whim of unscrupulous landlords and speculators seeking to capitalize on investment trends with rampant rent hikes and mass evictions.
Rent control mitigates the impacts of the housing crisis on those most vulnerable to it — working-class neighborhoods and communities of color. It protects people from sudden, huge rent increases intended to force them out in favor of richer occupants. Blackstone, for instance, has demanded that tenants come up with an extra $1,000 in just one month. Considering that a single rent increase stands between many families and homelessness, reining in aggressive practices like these is essential to stabilizing our communities and making a dent in our housing crisis.
The No on 10 campaign would have you do nothing, to accept the status quo in which thousands of tenants per year are systematically thrown out of their homes and into crisis. Let’s act instead. Let’s intervene by passing Prop 10.
Right now in Los Angeles, more than 225,000 housing units are exempted from rental protections because they were built after 1978, when the city’s original rent stabilization ordinance was passed. State restrictions forbid the city from updating its eligibility date as time passes. Rentals account for a third of single-family homes in the city; these are also excluded from protections. Passing Prop 10 would eliminate these restrictions at the state level, giving Los Angeles the opportunity to expand critical protections by 30%.
There is much more to be done on the way to solving California’s housing crisis. We need to build significantly more truly affordable housing. We need to get rid of the racist zoning laws that privilege property owners over renters. But as the next wave of displacement and banishment proceeds in the brutal name of the market, we need to act to stop the bleeding now.
A vote yes on Prop 10 is a vote for keeping our communities alive — for stopping the death that is displacement. We are at a crucial moment for determining who gets to live in California. As the development mogul at the helm of our nation seeks new ways to push Black, brown, and poor people out, let’s take every opportunity to help them stay.
Don’t do Trump’s dirty work for him. Show up for your neighbors on November 6. Vote yes on Prop 10.
Terra Graziani and Elana Eden are co-directors of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project-Los Angeles.