Rent control gets another chance
October 20, 2020
The pandemic has raised new fears about evictions in a high-rent state. A ballot initiative will let Californians decide whether new rent control would help.
Voters rejected a statewide expansion of rent control two years ago. Proposition 21 takes a lighter approach to loosening restrictions on rent control by allowing cities to cap rents, including those on vacant apartments and some privately owned, single-family units. Newer apartment complexes could also fall under some form of rent control. Supporters see Proposition 21 as a partial solution to California’s housing crisis while opponents say it will make a bad situation worse. USC experts are ready to talk about potential effects of the measure for property owners, renters, seniors and the homeless population.
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Rent control for the lucky
“There’s a lottery aspect to this policy. It doesn’t depend on whether you need rental assistance or not. Rather, it’s ‘do you happen to be in a property that has rental assistance?’
“I prefer policy that better targets redistribution from those who can afford to pay to those who really need the help. It’s just another thing that makes it unattractive to build housing in California.”
Richard K. Green holds the Lusk Chair in Real Estate and is a professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Marshall School of Business.
A decision for desperate times
“Rent control is never a preferred housing policy, but desperate conditions may warrant it until better policies can take effect. Housing shortages have been mounting ever since construction tapered down in the 1990s. Each boom period has produced less construction than before, and due to shortages rents barely slowed during the Great Recession, even while incomes fell. The current pandemic recession is stunting rent increases in downtown areas, but it’s raising rents in outer areas as people flee from density.
“Arguments about supply are pro and con, but the facts are clear: The 15-year exemption for new construction will not discourage new supply. Blame for shortages rest elsewhere, and as long as slow building is politically forced despite rising rents, the clamor for rent restrictions will grow ever stronger.”
Dowell Myers is a professor of urban planning and demography at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
A matter of local control
“I think we can decide when is it appropriate for it appropriate for rent control to be enacted in one’s community. We should be cautious about rent control stabilization measures as a tool for affordable housing, but we shouldn’t necessarily rule it out. There are many other tools that are desperately needed so we can support families who are low and moderate income to improve their housing stability.”
Gary Painter is a professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy and director of the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation.
Local control of rental housing for older adults
“Proposition 21 would give localities control over rental housing and help address affordability needs. Homeowners get attention in relation to taxes, but we need to address older renters on fixed incomes. Baby boomers aged 55 to 74 may have had their retirement plans ruined by the pandemic. Expiring affordability covenants, changes in building ownership and rent increases put seniors at risk of homelessness.
“The appeal of Prop 21 is that cities can assess their renters’ length of residence, income and supply needs. Local governments will have more opportunity to respond to their General Plan’s Housing Elements, which is required by law but rarely enforced. Prop 21 would help older renters age in the community and not be ousted by building ownership changes.”
Caroline Cicero is an instructional associate professor of gerontology at the USC Leonard David School of Gerontology.
A preventative measure for homelessness
“California has been in the midst of a housing affordability crisis for years that is directly related to the rising homeless population. COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem. Were it not for an eviction moratorium, we would already be witnessing an increase in homelessness like never before. To stave off a worsening homelessness crisis, we need all possible tools, including those contained in Proposition 21.
“Prop 21 allows local jurisdictions to enact rent stabilization measures that can help preserve affordable housing. While rent control alone can’t solve the problem of homelessness and there is some concern that it may result in landlords converting affordable units into condominiums, its ability to preserve affordable housing in communities that are most in need effectively acts as a homelessness prevention measure.”
Benjamin Henwood is an assistant professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
A useful tool
“The housing crisis requires a range of strategies, [and] moderate rent regulation is a useful tool to be nested in broader strategy. It has fewer damaging effects than are often imagined. It can address economic pain, and it can promote housing stability. Housing stability matters because it is associated with physical, social and psychological well-being, higher educational achievement by the young and benefits for people of color.”
Manuel Pastor is professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.