California voters enacted important change in this recent midterm election. They voted to sustain road repair and transportation funding. They voted to abolish an antiquated, unnecessary daylight saving system. But in failing to vote in favor of Proposition 10, they really dropped the ball.
Prop. 10 aimed to repeal the Costa–Hawkins Rental Housing Act — a repeal that would have allowed local governments to determine their own rent control laws. But now Costa–Hawkins will remain in place, sustaining a statewide limit on rent-control policy that cities are allowed to impose. But the obvious reality is that housing looks different in every city — and many of California’s cities are facing a significant housing crisis.
There are so many Californians — particularly young Californians — who are simply unable to rent housing in their hometowns, and Prop. 10 would have given local governments the power to change this. But misinformation regarding the impacts of the proposition was profuse — in fact, the language on the ballot itself was skewed toward a “no” vote. The ballot warned that the fiscal impact of the ballot measure was a potential decrease in state and local revenues of “tens of millions of dollars per year in the long term.” But the ballot said nothing about the ample benefits that Prop. 10 would provide renters across the state.
According to a study conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, there were serious discrepancies between potential voters’ thoughts on Prop. 10 and their views on rent control in general. Voters were very likely to support rent control but still oppose Prop. 10 — the convoluted language of the proposition was simply not accessible to the voters who could have most benefited from its passing.
Among the arguments against Prop. 10 is that it could decrease the amount of housing available to renters by leading to a decrease in available rentals. But Prop. 10 does not by any means guarantee drastic changes to rent control laws or extreme rollbacks in rents. It simply puts the power to make those decisions in the hands of local governments — exactly where this power should rest.
The reality is that California is in desperate need of affordable housing. The state is now home to nearly a quarter of the country’s homeless population, despite the fact that it only makes up 12 percent of the country’s total population. The Bay Area has seen a sharp rise in “super commuters” — residents who must commute incredibly long hours to jobs in cities that are starved of affordable housing.
Young residents across the state are unable to afford housing in the cities they once called home. And residents who have lived in this state for years are also being pushed out of their hometowns. Rent control is clearly a way to ensure that rents don’t continue to rise to exorbitant rates. And Californians took these protections away from renters across the state.
The next election isn’t for another two years — and this leaves proponents of Prop. 10 with plenty of time to make the changes necessary to ensure the measure’s accessibility. Blanket rent control policy will never suffice in a state as diverse as this one. Next time, Californians must do better.