Haas Institute policy brief highlights importance of rent control in solving housing crisis

Casey Zhang/Staff

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A Haas Institute policy brief released Sept. 19 points to rent control as one essential solution to California’s housing affordability crisis.

The brief, titled “Opening the Door for Rent Control,” proposes that rent control is the most cost-effective policy for stabilizing rising housing costs for Californians. The report highlights the necessity of affordable housing in the state and suggests a five-part strategy to tackle the housing issue.

“In looking at the data about the crisis, it’s clear that the burden faced by renters needs to be addressed immediately and be a major policy objective when talking about how to respond to the housing crisis,” said co-author of the brief and Haas Institute housing research analyst Nicole Montojo.

According to the report, a majority of California renters spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing. The brief also shows how rising housing costs and increased homelessness disproportionately affect seniors, low-income families, people with disabilities and communities of color. Research found that while African-Americans represent 6.5 percent of California’s population, they account for 27 percent of the state’s homeless population.

Paola Laverde, a Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner, said she pays 55 percent of her salary to her landlord, who lives outside of Berkeley.

“Rent control is the quickest way to provide stability and affordability,” Laverde said.

The brief suggests a comprehensive approach to implementation of rent control policies and presents strategies to introduce housing reform, including “equitable community participation” in housing-related decisions. The report recommends legislation preventing further evictions, with the end goal of creating affordable housing for low-income and socioeconomically disadvantaged residents.

Montojo said “rent control needs to be a foundation” for housing reform because it is the only solution that can work quickly enough to provide renters with financial stability.

Montojo added that people often suggest the construction of new housing as a solution, but she said she believes that building new housing and implementing rent control are not mutually exclusive. Rent control, she said, will have more immediate impacts.

“Rent control is unique in that it is the only solution that can work at the speed and the scale to stabilize renters,” Montojo said. “We need to be thinking about the needs of the people who are most impacted right now.”

This November, a repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act — a state law that enables landlords to raise rent after a tenant moves out and limits the ability of cities to establish rent control — will be on the election ballot as Proposition 10.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said Berkeley City Council placed Measure Q on the November ballot, which outlines the city’s approach to rent control if Prop. 10 passes. He said implementation will consist of a “gradual phasing in” of rent control, with newly constructed buildings being exempt for 20 years.

“Rent control is the single biggest policy that benefits the most low-income and middle class residents,” Worthington said.

Contact Ronit Sholkoff at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RonitSholkoff.