(From the 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity. Photo: David Shankbone)
On October 24, DSA’s nationally elected leadership, the National Political Committee (NPC), voted to endorse California’s Proposition 10. This ballot initiative would expand rent control, preventing evictions and stabilizing communities in the face of gentrification.
Proposition 10, the Affordable Housing Act, would allow communities to expand and strengthen tenant protections, legalizing rent control for every California renter regardless of what kind of home they live in. It would do so by repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act: a corporate loophole that lines the pockets of Wall St. landlords like Blackstone — a major donor to the no on 10 campaign — by banning rent control on single family homes and units built after 1995, or the year rent control was previously established in a city (such as 1978 for Los Angeles and 1979 for San Francisco).
DSA chapters have been active in the coalition behind Proposition 10 since organizers began gathering signatures to place it on the ballot early this year, running extensive canvassing operations, phone banking, producing viral videos, and more. You can read a statement from California DSA chapters below.
Why We Support Proposition 10 and Universal Rent Control
We, the California chapters and organizing committees of the Democratic Socialists of America, share a vision of a California that belongs to the working class — where a right to the city means that residents democratically and collectively shape their surroundings and land is used for the needs of people and not for the profits of absentee landowners. That’s why we’re coming together to fight for Proposition 10 to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Prop 10 paves the way for universal rent control in our communities, and is thus a critical step in our fight for housing all Californians with dignity, and eventually for the de-commodification of housing and land entirely.
Across the state, in our cities of varying sizes and scale, we see the same crisis: massive real estate corporations, millionaire landlords, bankers, property managers, and their allies — groups that are overwhelmingly composed of white men — are extracting more and more value from land at the expense of vulnerable tenants, kicking families out of their homes and onto the streets. One in three Californians pays more than half their income in rent, and over 100,000 individuals are unhoused. Thanks to Costa-Hawkins — signed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson in 1995 to stifle the housing justice movement and limit local democratic control over housing policy — cities cannot protect tenants from even the most extreme rent increases. As a result, over 2.5 million Californians have been forced to leave the state in search of affordable housing, destroying entire communities, particularly those occupied by people of color, in the process.
As the Democratic Party in California is thoroughly in the pocket of the real estate industry, efforts to repeal Costa-Hawkins have failed in the State Legislature. Fortunately, hundreds of thousands of Californians have joined the growing tenants movement to get Prop 10 on the ballot this November. DSA is joined by countless other progressive organizations in taking on some of the most shameless poverty profiteers in the country, like Blackstone, the largest private equity firm in the world, and other corporate landlords that stuff their pockets at the expense of struggling tenants. By the time this election comes, the opposition will likely spend over $100 million peddling lies to protect their profits.
Though we face an uphill battle against some of the richest people in the world, Proposition 10 is our first real opportunity to fight back and contest the exploitative relationship between tenants and landlords. A victory for Prop 10 will allow communities across California to place rent control on the single-family homes that have been gobbled up by Wall Street; extend rent control to apartments built after 1995, or the year that rent control was established in a city (so, for example, 1978 and 1979 for Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively); and enact “vacancy control,” limiting rent increases for new tenants and thus getting rid of the perverse incentive for landlords to evict long-time renters. In short, Prop 10 will effectively legalize the strong, universal rent control that is so desperately needed right now.
For Universal Rent Control
We believe that every single tenant in California deserves the protection and stability rent control provides, which is why we’re calling for universal rent control. This demand includes two provisions currently outlawed by Costa-Hawkins: rent control on single-family homes, and vacancy control, which prevents landlords from raising rents to market-rate once a tenant vacates, thus preserving the affordability of our rent-controlled housing stock over time and removing the perverse “eviction bonus” that currently incentivizes landlords to harass and evict long-term tenants.
The benefits of rent control are easy to understand, well-documented, and robust — and they vastly outweigh the speculative and marginal negatives that are frequently touted by the real estate industry. Rent control is not a panacea, but it can put a forceful brake on this escalating crisis, and can do so immediately, and at very little cost to the state. Frankly, universal rent control is a no-brainer for those whose loyalties lie with tenants instead of corporate landlords and billionaire investors.
Rent control keeps families in their homes, restricting evictions and reducing homelessness. A recent study from Zillow demonstrated that every 5% increase in rents in Los Angeles pushes 2,000 more people into homelessness. In 1994 the city of Cambridge got rid of its rent control protections, and almost immediately rents shot up 50%, evictions increased by 33%, and 40% of tenants in regulated units had vacated. A study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute found if rent control were eliminated in San Francisco, 16,000 households would find themselves in unaffordable housing overnight. The eviction crisis is a public health crisis, with mothers and children disproportionately bearing the burden. Rent control keeps vulnerable tenants in their homes and off the streets, plain and simple.
Rent control also stabilizes communities of color in our rapidly gentrifying cities. Loads of studies have confirmed the obvious: that rent control keep prices down and thus allows more poor people and people of color to remain in increasingly prosperous urban areas. It also helps keep diverse communities viable long-term. Black and Latinx neighborhoods in particular are being destroyed as the capitalist real estate market re-segregates metropolitan regions and erases entire communities, uprooting people of color from places like Hollywood, South LA, Santa Barbara, cities all across the Bay Area, and so many more. Rent control is one of our foremost tools to prevent our cities from becoming playgrounds exclusively for the white and rich.
Rent control keeps money in tenants’ pockets, and over time, transfers wealth from absentee landlords to entire local communities. A report by the City of Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board found that only 10% of rent increases go back into local economies via building repairs or increased tax revenues — 90% goes straight to the pockets of landlords, who often don’t live in the communities in which they own property. Rent control allows working-class families to spend more of their paychecks on essentials, boosting the economies of entire communities.
Finally, rent control fundamentally increases the power of the working class while weakening the power of predatory investors and the institution of the capitalist real estate market. More money and stability for renters means a greater capacity to organize and challenge the status quo for entire communities. Rent control is only a reform, but it’s one that challenges the logic of unlimited profit-making and increases our ability to collectively fight for a better world.
We are not persuaded by the arguments against rent control put forth by the real estate industry and their defenders, most of which focus on the claim that rent control would reduce the supply of housing and thus raise prices. First, this claim simply lacks empirical evidence. A recent report from UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute concludes plainly that “numerous empirical studies, as well as housing production trends in cities with rent control, show no negative effect on housing production.” More fundamentally, we do not believe that more housing production by the capitalist market, which mostly builds luxury units because that’s what is profitable, would be a meaningful fix for working-class renters. Even more specifically, there’s no way the potential and marginal decrease in supply from rent control could outweigh the enormous benefits outlined above. And, ultimately, consider this: if rent control were really to raise rents, the real estate industry wouldn’t be spending $100 million to defeat Prop 10!
Against Means Testing
We firmly reject the idea that we’ve heard from corporate liberals that Costa-Hawkins should not be fully repealed, and that rent control should be “means tested” — that is, only available to those who qualify due to having incomes below a certain threshold. Rent control, like healthcare, free college, Social Security, and many other social programs, should be universal and available to all. Means testing is harmful in two major ways.
First, it’s confusing to renters and unnecessarily difficult to administer. Means-tested rent control would require tenants who are already in precarious positions to have an understanding of complex laws that may vary across cities and could change every time they move. And greedy landlords would surely find ways to simply not accept tenants with low-incomes (thus avoiding rent control) or exploit loopholes in the system in other ways. Means testing rent control will only end up hurting tenants.
Second, means testing arbitrarily divides the working class, fuels racial resentments, and reduces political support for necessary programs. Bill Clinton’s ending of welfare in the 1990s provides a crucial lesson. He was able to destroy this program because it was, due largely to racist propaganda from the right, maliciously seen as disproportionately benefiting poor Black women at the expense of the white working class. And rich people had no use for the program, so it totally lacked support from those with power.
Universal programs overcome these major defects. To rent in California is scary. Eviction is common and confusion and disempowerment are the norm. Universal rent control would provide clarity and relief for the struggling renter class — all of it.
Our Larger Vision
Yet even as we fight like hell for strong, universal rent control, we also understand that this is only a reform. Rent control can put a brake on this crisis, but it still fundamentally leaves the capitalist system of housing intact. A much more fundamental and radical redistribution of land, resources, and power is needed to house everyone with dignity. For starters, the state must begin to construct social housing immediately. Our ultimate and transformative goal is to take housing off the speculative market altogether, bringing land under the democratic control of those who live on it. From community land trusts, to social housing on a massive scale, there are a number of ways to do this. We will continue to fight until housing is a human right and not a tool for profit.
DSA Chico Pre-Organizing Committee
DSA East Bay
DSA Fresno Organizing Committee
DSA Inland Empire Pre-Organizing Committee
DSA Long Beach
DSA Los Angeles County
DSA North Bay Organizing Committee
DSA Orange County
DSA Pomona Valley Organizing Committee
DSA San Diego
DSA San Francisco
DSA San Luis Obispo Pre-Organizing Committee
DSA Santa Barbara Organizing Committee
DSA Santa Cruz
DSA Silicon Valley