Rent control expansion bill fails first test

An attempt to allow cities in California to expand rent control failed its first legislative test.
An attempt to allow cities in California to expand rent control failed its first legislative test.
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A state bill that would allow California cities to expand rent control failed to pass out of its first committee Thursday.

The proposed bill, AB 1506, takes aim at Costa Hawkins, a 1995 law that prevents cities from enacting rent control ordinances that include single family homes and new construction. 

The bill was introduced by Assembly Member Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, a city known for supporting tenant protections. 

"Rising rents continue to be an issue facing so many of our constituents," Bloom said. "We can agree that it's not one that is easy to address, but address it we must, and there are very few tools available to us. This is the most important and the most obvious one."

Officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco have at least partially blamed the 1995 law for skyrocketing rents in both cities. After 2017's homeless count showed a 23 percent rise in the county's homeless population, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti mentioned Costa Hawkins as a factor.

"We can't let rents soar by double digits every single year and the state shackles us with Costa-Hawkins, without being able to change what rents are in this city," Garcetti said in May, when the 2017's count results became public.

L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has called on the legislature to revise the bill. 

But legislators on the California Assembly's Housing and Community Development Committee had doubts a repeal would help alleviate the housing crisis. 

Assembly Member Marc Steinorth of Rancho Cucamonga worried that the heaviest impact would fall not on corporations that own large numbers of properties, but on individuals who rent out their single family home or condo.

"It's clear to me that the key to solving the housing crisis in California is building more homes," Steinorth said. "It's not clear that repealing Costa Hawkins would help, in fact it could exacerbate it."

Opponents of rent control argued Thursday that an expansion would dampen incentives and ability to built rentals and for existing rentals to stay on the market. 

"Our balance of jobs and housing is not there," said Debra Carlton of the California Apartment Association. "Owners have left the market, they've walked out. And we're going to see that again."

Supporters of the bill, however, said a repeal would allow local jurisdictions to make up their own minds about the costs and benefits of expanding rent control. 

"I don't disagree with the analyses of the impact that rent control does have on the economy, but we're playing with an economy that has progressed so far in one particular direction that sometimes it is up to government to provide some balancing," said Assembly Member Mark Stone of Santa Cruz. 

Some members of the committee who opposed the bill indicated they might be open to talking about reforming Costa Hawkins instead of repealing it outright. Members of realty groups also said they were open to discussion.

Stone, however, was skeptical.

"This bill was introduced eleven months ago," he said. "Why we have to wait that long to have this notion brought forward is a little frustrating."