Practical Politics

The politics of housing for Black folks in California

David L. Horne, Ph.D Ow oped | 9/12/2019, midnight

Most of us remember the ill-fated Prop 10 from 2018. It was an attempt to overturn California’s ban on keeping control of annual rent increases. The proposition was forcefully attacked by moneyed interests, including many landlords, and because the public was confused throughout the campaign, Prop 10 crashed and burned.

Usually in politics, when one misses his/her moment, it rarely comes again. Allowing rent control in most—if not all relevant—California communities was and is an important public good. It is especially important to African-Americans in the state, since the majority of the Black population lives in rental properties, and as many in communities like Inglewood have repeated time and again, “The rent’s too high.”

Assembly Bill 1482 is another bite of the apple. Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to support the legislation, and the California legislature has been mandated to vote up or down on the bill by this September 13th (Friday). The measure calls for a limit on rental housing increases to 5 percent plus inflation throughout California for the next 10 years. It is not a complete overturning of the Costas-Hawkins law in the state, but it would clearly make things better while the fight to completely obviate that law continues.  

Just as a reminder, the Costa–Hawkins Rental Housing Act in California was enacted in 1995, and places limits on the ability of California cities to pass rent control ordinances. This 24-year-old law, clearly out-of-date now, does two main things:  First, it prohibits cities from establishing rent control over certain kinds of residential units, including single-family dwellings, condominiums, and newly constructed apartment units (the kind cropping up  and down Crenshaw Boulevard and other parts of South Central L.A. right now).

Second, the law prohibits "vacancy control", which is also known as "strict" rent control. That means when an apartment or rental housing unit is under “vacancy control,” city governments in California can limit or deny an owner’s right to increase the rent for the next occupant. Costas-Hawkins severely restricts municipal governments’ authority to do that.

 Costa–Hawkins is a law created to manage the power of California cities to regulate their rental markets, and it is now a law in the way of progress. As most of us are aware, there is a major housing shortage in California that gets bigger by the minute, and Costas-Hawkins is a law in the way of solving that problem. A.B. 1482 will not overturn Costas-Hawkins, but it will provide meaningful temporary relief from it.

There are currently 15 California cities with some form of rent control, without A.B. 1482 passing, including Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. L.A.’s main rent control law is called the Rent Stabilization Ordinance, or RSO, and it passed in 1979. The ordinance restricts rent control in Los Angeles to units built before October 1978. The Costas-Hawkins law froze that date in place.

Under the RSO, annual rent increases are supposed to be capped at 3 to 8 percent, but owners of buildings constructed after 1978 can set their own rental rates and change them at any time, as long as they provide proper notice to tenants.

Californians concerned about the state’s growing housing crisis, including its severe problem with homelessness, need to call, text, email or use social media to contact their state representatives to urge them to pass AB 1482. It is not a complete solution, but it will temporarily relieve the pressure built up in the radiator of California’s housing market, and allow us to move on to a permanent solution.

And it will certainly help control the dire rental situation in places like Inglewood, where Black tenants are being evicted en masse, as many others around them celebrate the new Rams football stadium and the Clippers’ new largess in the area. 

Partying for the dead is a jaundiced celebration. 

 Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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