Proposal to expand rent control in California fails to advance

State legislation that would have expanded rent control in California failed Thursday after a lengthy and heated debate that brought landlord and tenant groups from across the state to the Capitol.

At issue was a bill that would have repealed a nearly quarter-century-old law that prohibits cities and counties from implementing most new rent control policies. The measure died after four members of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee, including Democrats Ed Chau of Arcadia and Jim Wood of Healdsburg, declined to support it.

Chau and Wood said they were concerned that a large growth in rent control could slow already lagging housing production in the state.

“I’m concerned that the bill does nothing to increase the supply of housing and may in fact have the opposite effect of discouraging new construction during a time when we need it the most,” Wood said.

Hundreds of tenants and landlords waited in a line that wound around the fourth floor of the Capitol to participate in two hours of public testimony on the bill. At one point, when committee Chairman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) asked who supported and opposed the bill, those outside banged on the committee room’s walls, causing a low rumble inside.

Tenant advocates chanted “housing is a human right” in the hallways while landlords pleaded to committee members about the effects of expanding rent control on their livelihoods.

Rents and housing costs have soared in California, especially in recent years, as new home building has failed to keep pace with population growth. The problem hits low-income residents hardest. More than 1.5 million Californians pay more than half their incomes on rent, fueling concerns about displacement and gentrification across the state.

The affordability problem goes beyond affecting California’s poorest residents. Chanée Franklin, an attorney and renter in Oakland, told the committee that after 10 years of living in a single-family home with her family, her landlord abruptly raised her rent by $1,500 — a 50% increase. Franklin said she doesn’t begrudge her landlord making money, but believes all renters deserve some security.

“At a minimum, we’re entitled to stability,” Franklin said. “That’s a human right.”

California cities and counties aren’t allowed to implement rent control on apartments built after Feb. 1, 1995. For many cities, the prohibition goes back even further. In the city of Los Angeles, for instance, rent control is allowed on buildings built before October 1978.

These restrictions come from a state law known as Costa-Hawkins. The legislation at issue Thursday would have repealed Costa-Hawkins, allowing local governments to develop new rent control policies. Currently, 15 cities across the state have some form of rent control.

Opponents to the legislation, chiefly the California Apartment Assn., argued that rent control restrictions would stifle developers’ willingness to build new properties, exacerbating the state’s problems.

“I get it that rent control will help people in their homes at this moment, but it won’t stop there,” said Debra Carlton, the association’s senior vice president of public affairs. “That’s the most unfortunate part of this debate.”

Thursday’s hearing was a long time coming. Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) introduced the bill last February, but no committee hearing was scheduled last year. Tenant organizations in the Bay Area occupied Chiu’s San Francisco office last month and posted a mock eviction notice to his door to press him to hold one.

Chiu, a supporter of the proposed legislation, said the state needs to revisit Costa-Hawkins as housing problems have become more acute.

“My city, like many cities and areas around the state, are in a crisis, and our renters need relief,” Chiu said.

After the vote, tenant groups held protests in the committee room.

Thursday’s decision does not end the rent control debate. Advocates also are collecting signatures for a possible November 2018 ballot measure that would repeal Costa-Hawkins. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit and veteran of high-dollar local and state initiative campaigns, is one of the groups behind the effort.

liam.dillon@latimes.com

@dillonliam

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