Housing is a basic need, fundamental to a healthy and stable life. All Californians should have the choice to stay rooted in their homes and communities, benefit from new investments and opportunities in their neighborhoods, and live without fear of unjust rent increases or eviction. But for too many renters in California, a safe, stable, and affordable home is out of reach. And still for others, housing is no longer an option. The hardships of unaffordable housing disrupt people’s health, education, and bonds with family and community. These consequences have most deeply impacted some of the groups who can least afford it: seniors, people with disabilities, low-wage workers, people of color, and families with children.
These challenges call for policy that stabilizes rents in the near term. In taking action to address the housing crisis, our policy goal must be first and foremost about people, not units. It must center on creating true belonging—structural inclusion where institutions and policies meet and are responsive to people's needs. Rent control policies can lay a foundation for this goal by providing a cost-effective, immediate, and widespread effect of stabilizing rents. They would have broad benefits, making more of tenants’ incomes available to be spent on other necessities, reducing traffic, freeing up public resources for other priorities, and increasing the stability and cohesion of neighborhood communities.
Other strategies to resolve the housing crisis— producing more housing, preserving existing affordable housing, removing barriers to racial integration—are essential, but they are long-term solutions. Without rent control, their benefits will not manifest until long after much of the harm caused by the broken housing market has been done. Only rent control can provide an immediate solution to the growing housing cost burden on renters.
This moment demands a public response today to correct for the failures of the current market, reduce the cost burden on renters, prevent further displacement, and balance fairness between tenants and homeowners. A significant part of the cost of housing being charged to tenants, and collected by landlords, is not due to any investment or action by landlords. Costs have increased in part because of public actions that improve neighborhood safety, air quality, school quality, and other qualities of life that increase property values. Because public action creates value, government has a legitimate responsibility to limit how much of it translates to increased rental costs.
Current law in California sets strict limits on rent control policies, restricting the possibilities for stabilizing rents in the state. These limits, such as exempting all singlefamily homes and all housing units built within the last forty years in California’s largest cities, or twenty four years in the rest of the state, remove an important policy tool for local, county, and state governments and voters to consider. Furthermore, they hinder our collective ability to imagine and advance a future that is only possible through greater affordability for all.
The dire challenges facing the majority of renters in the state signify a need to remove restrictions on rent control and open the debate on implementing rent control policies.