From Where We Are

Prop it up #2: Understanding California’s Proposition 21

This week, we take a look at how Californians can vote on reining in skyrocketing rents for homes.

Prop 21 aims to expand rent control. It allows cities and counties to apply rent control to a bigger proportion of the state’s housing. Most multi-unit housing more than 15 years old would qualify.

This comes at a time when California faces record homelessness and scarce affordable housing. Over one hundred fifty thousand Californians are currently homeless.

Under Prop 21, landlords may raise rent by up to fifteen percent for new tenants in their first three years. Landlords with two or fewer properties are exempt from this bill. Some landlords may sell properties to avoid receiving lower rent.

Paul Lanctot, an organizer with the LA Tenant Union, said Prop 21 is a step in the right direction.

“Prop 21 will actually expand local communities' ability to expand rent control laws and pass stronger rent control laws than what they have in like LA to apply it to more buildings and to give tenants more protections, limiting rent increases and giving them stronger eviction protections,” Lanctot said.

The looming threat of COVID-19 has meant that housing insecurities are not only heightened, but could be deadly to many Californians who are struggling to find affordable housing.

“40% of renters cannot afford the rent, you know due to a global pandemic really having stronger rent controls is extremely important because it’s going to be a long recovery out of this,” Lanctot said.

Steven Maviglio, a member of the Affordable Housing Board in Sacramento, said Prop 21 will discourage investment in affordable housing by creating more local regulations.

Maviglio also said Prop 21 is unnecessary.

“The governor and the legislature passed the nation’s strongest anti-rent gouging law that limits the kind of outrageous rent increases we saw for a while there. So that law is already in place,” he said. “So, when you are talking about something that allows 15% rent increases, you know what’s the point? We already have a state law and we’ve already seen what the markets doing with rents. So, it makes very little sense if all it’s going to do is hurt landlords who are trying to give their tenants a break and also hurt the development of new affordable housing.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom agrees and also opposes Prop 21.

Gov. Newsom has extended the state’s eviction moratorium to next spring because many residents are still struggling to make rent.

Updated on Oct. 20, 2020: A previous version of this story included comments primarily from people representing Yes on 21. We updated the story to include a voice to represent No on 21.