Prop 21: Californians reject ballot measure to expand rent control

California

Voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a ballot measure that have would let California cities expand rent control in a state where residents are grappling with rising housing costs.

Proposition 21 would have let cities limit rent hikes on properties that are more than 15 years old. People who own one or two single-family homes would have been exempt.

“No” votes led early and the lead expanded to 59% after more than 10 million ballots were counted.

Tom Bannon of the group Californians for Responsible Housing cheered the decision, saying voters understood the negative impacts the measure would have had on the availability of affordable housing.

‘”The broad coalition opposing Prop. 21 – from Governor Gavin Newsom to the California Republican Party, as well as labor, social justice, senior, veterans and housing groups – made an effective case that this initiative would have worsened the state’s housing crisis,” Bannon said in a statement. It is now time to move from ballot box battles and enact policies through the Legislature that allow the state to build more affordable housing that will once again make California an affordable place to live for our families.”

Bannon and other opponents argued that the measure would have discouraged new home construction at a time when it is sorely needed for California’s 40 million people.

Proponents contended Prop. 21 was an urgent attempt to slow spiraling rent increases that lead to crowding and homelessness.

Rene Christian Moya, campaign director of Yes on 21, said late Tuesday that the group was “disappointed, although not completely surprised, that Prop. 21 fell short at the ballot box tonight.”

Moya said they would “continue the fight for housing justice for California’s seventeen-million renters.”

The state has been grappling with rising housing costs for years, and Newsom last year approved a decade-long limit on rent increases to 5% a year plus inflation. That law — which came after a more expansive rent control proposition was rejected by voters in 2018 — also barred landlords from evicting tenants without a reason.

Kitty Bolte, a member of the Sacramento Tenants Union, welcomed the rent hike cap but said it didn’t do enough for places like her community, where many rent single-family homes that aren’t covered by the law.

She said her group often fields calls about uninhabitable conditions, but tenants are afraid landlords will retaliate with rent increases if they complain. That’s one of the reasons she supported the measure.

“Most people are afraid to exercise those rights because they’re not confident what is currently available will protect them,” Bolte said last month. “The more places that are covered, the more places people have to go.”

The measure backed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation aimed to blunt the impact of a more than two-decade-old state law that blocks new rent control measures from applying to properties built since 1995.

The state’s Democratic Party supported Proposition 21, but Newsom was opposed.

Both sides agreed more affordable housing is needed. Home prices have soared in California, while the median rent rose 18% from 2010 to 2019, about twice the nationwide increase, according to a recent report by researchers at the University of Southern California.

More than half of California’s renters spend over 30% of their income on rent, the report said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, many out-of-work Californians haven’t been able to pay rent and the state has granted eviction relief through January to those who can’t pay in full.

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