Housing Advocates Push for Rent Control Ballot Measure

By: 
Sean Belk

After failing to gain full legislative support from elected city officials, affordable-housing advocates in Long Beach have started collecting signatures in an effort to place a measure on the November ballot that, if approved, would establish rent control and other renters’ rights laws in the city.

The petition drive officially began last week after the city attorney’s office approved a ballot title and summary for the proposed measure to be titled “Long Beach Rent Control Ordinance,” Deputy City Attorney Amy Webber confirmed in an email. As required by state election code, proponents have 180 days to circulate petitions and obtain required signatures.

If approved by voters, the ordinance would establish residential rent control and restrictions on how landlords may terminate tenant leases, according to language provided by the city clerk’s office. The ordinance would also establish “just cause for eviction” requirements that would be enforced and administered through a newly-created Rental Housing Board.

The measure is being proposed by Housing Long Beach, a nonprofit affordable-housing advocacy group, as well as Long Beach Gray Panthers, a senior-citizen advocacy group, and Latinos in Action California in response to an ongoing “housing crisis” of rising rents and low vacancy of affordable housing in the city.

Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach, said in an interview with the Beachcomber that rent control and renters’ rights protections are part of a solution to the housing crisis, pointing to statistics from Zillow.com that show Long Beach has seen average 30 percent rent increases in the last three years.

“The rising rents we’re seeing are part of the housing crisis that the country is in the midst of and that Long Beach is feeling the heat on,” he said. “Unaffordable rents are pushing generations of local community members out of their neighborhoods. We don’t think it has to be this way. We think that rent control is a fair and common sense way to prevent unfair evictions.”

However, opponents of the measure, including the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities (AACSC), Pacific West Association of Realtors (PWR) and the California Apartment Association (CAA),  argue that rent control would only make the housing crisis worse.

Opponents state that rent control policies, such as those already implemented in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Francisco, only stifle development and reduce overall supply of rental units, ultimately keeping rents high and affordable housing vacancy low.

Still, Butler said Long Beach has seen an influx of new property owners and developers pricing out longtime low-income residents in recent years, forcing them to find new homes elsewhere. He said the proposed renters’ rights protections, such as relocation assistance, would help prevent such a situation.

“We have new high-income tenants moving in and rents are going up,” Butler said. “It’s pricing out longtime residents and forcing them to leave their homes and their neighborhoods. Quite simply, that is what gentrification looks like and that’s what’s happening to Long Beach right now.”

In a statement provided via email, AACSC Executive Director Johanna Cunningham stated that the housing crisis in Long Beach is primarily being driven by a “lack of supply” of rental units in the market and government policies will not solve such a market situation.

“If you look at the history of rent control, it is clear that it does not work,” she said. “This initiative is not the answer and no other options have even been discussed. Lack of supply is the primary concern and rent control will not solve that issue. The [AACSC] does not support this action and, as one city in Northern California said, ‘government should not be involved.’”

Butler added, however, that suggesting that high rents are caused by rent control policies is “simply not true.” He said high rents are caused by a city’s “desirability” and employer base. Exemptions through state laws, such as the Costa-Hawkins Act Rental Housing Act, which exempts properties built after 1995, have also played a factor in keeping rents high, Butler said. 

While Long Beach’s housing crisis may be more “acute” than other cities due to a higher poverty rate among renters and older housing stock, the situation is not unique to the city, he added, noting that rent control initiatives are also being proposed in three other cities in Los Angeles County, including Glendale, Pasadena and Inglewood.

Butler said rent control is “no silver bullet” to solving the housing crisis as other solutions, such as spurring more affordable housing development, are still needed. The rent control ordinance, he said, is part of an overall solution, proposed as a “community first protection policy.”

Butler noted that a statewide effort is also afoot this year to place a measure ballot to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Even if the state repeal effort fails, a local rent control ordinance would still “bring quite a few people under the umbrella and provide quite a bit of security,” he said, adding that approximately 90 percent of Long Beach’s housing stock was built before 1995.

Joani Weir, president of Better Housing for Long Beach, which was formed a few years ago in opposition to the renters’ rights movement and to advocate for property owners, said rent control would “devastate” Long Beach and cause several “unintended consequences” such as forcing property owners into foreclosure.

As an example, she noted that much of New York’s housing stock became abandoned after strict rent control policies were passed in the 1970s since banks often won’t refinance rent control properties, forcing owners to foreclose or sell.

Weir said much of the recent housing crisis and lack of supply has been “manufactured” caused by government policies that have stifled new affordable housing development for decades. She said the renters’ rights movement itself has already caused property owners to raise rents and the ordinance, if approved, will only raise rents higher.

“When you threaten a city like Long Beach with rent control, you create a panic,” Weir said. “You’re going to create a panic within the property owners, and they’re going to raise rents.”

While Long Beach has implemented a proactive rental housing inspection program (PRHIP), increasing penalties on owners for not complying with public health and safety standards, housing advocates continue to push for a rent escrow account program (REAP), which would allow tenants in “substandard” dwellings to pay rent to the city until violations are corrected.

Weir said such policies financially cripple property owners as well as subcontractors, such as painters, gardeners, electricians, plumbers and roofers.

Long-term solutions to the housing crisis, she said, would be to allow more affordable housing development and provide incentives to property owners, such as property tax breaks, rather than penalties and fees.

According to the city clerk’s office, 10 percent of registered voters (approximately 27,462 signatures) in Long Beach must sign the petition supporting the proposed rent control ordinance for it to be placed on the ballot.

sean@beachcomber.news

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Comments

They are pushing a bill that would push any mom and pop property owners out of business, especially those charging below market rents. With the new expenses they will have added in, those owners will have two choices raise rents or sell off.

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