Capitol Alert

California rent control initiative appears headed for defeat

The fight for stronger rent control in California appears headed for a fiery demise, according to the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

A whopping 60 percent of likely voters say they will vote against Proposition 10, a measure on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot that would repeal the state Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which strictly limits rent control in cities across California. Repeal would restore broad authority to cities to enact any rent control law they choose.

A quarter of likely voters surveyed say they’d vote yes, and 15 percent are undecided, the poll found.

The initiative, backed the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its president, Los Angeles housing activist Michael Weinstein, qualified earlier this year after a state bill to repeal Costa-Hawkins was unsuccessful.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, had pressed for a legislative deal but failed under intense opposition from property owners and representatives of the state’s powerful real estate industry. They said loosening restrictions on rent control would harm housing production in California as the state struggles with a widespread housing affordability crisis.

That view is shared by both gubernatorial candidates, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican businessman John Cox.

Tenants’ rights activists have pressed their case for stronger rent control primarily in coastal cities that have become ground zero for the housing crisis, arguing that overturning Costa-Hawkins would restore the power of cities to enact stronger local laws to protect tenants facing displacement and steep rent increases.

But the majority of likely voters, including renters in cities that have existing rent control laws, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, oppose the initiative, the poll found. Roughly half – 53 percent – of renters are against it, and 63 percent of homeowners are opposed.

Opposition has intensified as Election Day nears, with the percentage of likely voters against repeal of Costa-Hawkins jumping 11 percentage points since September.

“There was more movement on this than anything else in our survey,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “The ‘no’ side has really raised a lot of doubts, and they’ve had the resources to do so.”

The opposing side has raised $68 million, more than twice as much as supporters.

Under current state law, cities cannot apply rent control to large amounts of housing in California, including single-family homes and all housing built after 1995. It also gives property owners the right to raise rents to market-rate prices once a tenant in a rent-controlled unit vacates. Repeal of the state law would change that, and give cities the ability to adopt stronger rent control laws than they have now.

Baldassare said massive spending against the measure likely factored into voter doubt, though its low favorability could also reflect confusion surrounding the concept of Costa-Hawkins repeal.

“When it comes to propositions, the burden of proof is always on the ‘yes’ side,” Baldassare said. “If (opponents are) able to raise doubts and questions or if it seems like there’s a division of opinion, voters are more comfortable staying away from it and voting no rather than taking a risk and voting yes.”

Newsom said should initiative fail, he’d work immediately to draft a statewide solution to address concerns of both sides.

“If this thing gets defeated, there’s a deal,” Newsom said in an earlier interview, declining to elaborate. “There’s a legitimate crisis, and I don’t use that word flippantly — I don’t use it lightly. I understand exactly where this initiative comes from and I support rent control.

“I just think there’s a deal on this,” he added. “My fear with this initiative…(is) that it could have a chilling effect on new housing production. I’m profoundly worried about that.”

Newsom said if elected in November, he’d work “immediately” to reach a deal.

“I will take responsibility to address the issue if this does get defeated,” he said, adding that he’d “not wait even the first 100 days…to pursue that in a transition.”

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