California voters this year will likely decide whether cities across the state should have more power to enact stronger rent control.
Rent control proponents behind a proposed November ballot initiative that would allow cities and counties to pass strong rent control laws say they now have enough signatures to qualify the measure.
"People understand that rents are out of control, that's why I think you're seeing this initiative move forward," said Damien Goodmon, director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's "Housing is a Human Right" campaign.
Funded primarily by the foundation and backed by labor and tenants' rights groups across California, the initiative seeks to repeal a 1995 state law called the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. If repealed, cities and counties would be able to strengthen existing rent control policies, or pass new laws that go further than what's currently allowed.
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At present, laws in jurisdictions with rent control are prevented from covering large amounts of housing, including single-family homes, condos and duplexes. All units built after 1995 also are exempt.
Repeal backers say they've collected more than 588,000 signatures. They needed 365,880 by June to qualify.
"We're in a moment when people are saying give us the power to control rents," Goodmon said. "Sacramento should not be dictating and restricting local communities from enacting policies necessary to address the housing crisis."
Opponents, including powerful real estate interests, blasted the proposed initiative, calling it an "affordable housing freeze" that would stymie construction of new housing across the state.
"This ballot measure will pour gasoline on the fire of California's affordable housing crisis," said California Apartment Association CEO Tom Bannon. "It will do exactly the opposite of what it promises. Instead of helping Californians, it will result in an affordable housing freeze and higher costs."
The association has fought and killed local rent control measures across California in recent years, including one in Santa Rosa in 2016.
Housing activists pushing for more power in Sacramento rallied in support of Costa-Hawkins repeal at the Capitol Monday. Melvin Willis, vice mayor for the city of Richmond, who campaigned for the successful local rent control measure in 2016, said state lawmakers "had their chance to address this housing crisis."
"But because they were dragging their feet...people power is getting the job done," Willis said, referring to the repeal campaign that he is also working on. "We have gathered enough signatures to make sure that our families are protected from rent-gouging."
Assembly Democrats killed a bill earlier this year that sought to repeal Costa-Hawkins.
Gloria Cortez is among the activists working to repeal it at the ballot box. She and her family were evicted from their Pomona home last year and became homeless after complaining about mold, she said.
"They didn't want to fix the issue so they evicted us," Cortez said at the rally. "We all deserve to have a home...we deserve something affordable. Costa-Hawkins has got to go."