The New York Times: California rent control bill advances, fueled by housing crisis

The New York Times, September 10, 2019: California rent control bill advances, fueled by housing crisis

California’s escalating housing costs have yielded epic commutes and a rising tide of homelessness. Now they are close to producing a political milestone: a vast expansion of tenant-protection laws that would cap rents statewide.

On Tuesday, the State Senate voted to advance a bill to limit rent increases to 5%t a year plus a cost-of-living adjustment. The State Assembly, the Legislature’s lower house, could give final approval as early as Wednesday, though passage is uncertain.

The legislation is the latest in a series of measures that have swept through state and local governments this year to regulate rents and strengthen tenant rights. For decades, such provisions have been mostly limited to a relative handful of apartments in the nation’s big cities.

“Passing tenant legislation in Sacramento is incredibly difficult,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat who is the bill’s author. “But we’re in the midst of the worst housing crisis in our state’s history, and I think my colleagues and policymakers understand we have to do something differently.”

The signs of that crisis include the nation’s steepest home prices and the highest state poverty rate once housing costs are figured in. In recent years, state and local governments have allocated several billion dollars to encourage subsidized affordable housing, only to see California’s homeless ranks swell.

All this has opened the door for rent control, historically a lost cause in Sacramento but a legislative priority of Gov. Gavin Newsom in his first year in office. Newsom, a Democrat, was previously mayor of San Francisco, where the housing pinch has been particularly acute.

The bill is technically an anti-gouging measure that borrows language from the typically short-term price caps imposed after disasters like fires and floods. It would extend price protections to an estimated eight million tenants, though only a small fraction now face annual rent increases in excess of the bill’s limit.
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