Soaring housing prices force rent controls in November US ballot

Liberty McCoy was out Saturday urging voters to pass a Nov. 8 ballot measure to limit rent increases in Pasadena because she fears eviction from the city where she grew up and where her aging parents live.

The librarian and her husband, an independent consultant, were notified of a monthly rent increase of $100 last year and another $150 this year, bringing the rent on their home outside Los Angeles at $2,350 a month. They can absorb increases for now, but not forever.

“A lot of times people say, ‘Well, just try to pick up and move somewhere cheaper,'” the 44-year-old said. “But I have a job there, my family, my friends. It would be a big challenge to uproot my whole life in search of cheaper rent.

With rental prices are skyrocketing and affordable housing shortage, inflation-weary tenants in cities and counties across the country are turning to the ballot box for relief. Proponents say rent control policies in the Nov. 8 ballot are the best short-term option to curb rising rents and ensure vulnerable residents stay housed.

Opponents, led by the real estate industry, say rent controls will drive up prices for tenants in homes not covered by rent caps, hurt family landlords who depend on rental income for their retirement and discourage construction of new homes. affordable housing that they badly need. lodging. They spent heavily to stop the ballot initiatives, even going to court to stop them.

In Orange County, Floridahouse for disney World and other theme parks, voters will consider a ballot initiative limit rent increases to the annual increase in the consumer price index. But a court ruling last week means that even if it passes, it could be overturned.

Supporters in Orlando and other cities in Orange County point to a population that has grown 25% since 2010 and rents that have jumped 25% between 2020 and 2021 — and saw another double-digit increase this year. The housing shortage was magnified by Hurricane Ian, with an estimated 1,140 rental properties sustaining $44.5 million in damage.

“I’ve had a lot of constituents contact me, and they’re afraid of becoming homeless. They don’t know what to do,” said Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla, who wrote the ballot initiative ordinance after hearing from tenants facing rent increases of more than 100 percent.

Last year, voters in St. Paul, Minnesota passed a ballot measure capping rents at 3% a year while residents across the river in Minneapolis backed a measure allowing the city ​​council to enact a rent control ordinance.

This summer, Kingston, New York, became the first upstate city to enact rent control. The measure means that about 1,200 units – buildings built before 1974 with six or more units – must limit rents to a percentage set by a rent guidelines board.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu was elected last year and brought back rent control to the city as part of his campaign. The biggest obstacle to this proposal is that Massachusetts voters narrowly approved a 1994 ballot question banning statewide rent control.

“Rent stabilization can provide protections for everyone, but do it in a way that really targets benefits for low-income tenants, tenants of color, tenants most desperately affected by the instability of the housing,” said Tram Hoang, a housing policy expert who was involved in the St. Paul campaign.

The rent control fight has been most intense in the West, where in 2019 lawmakers in California and Oregon approved statewide caps on annual rent increases. California’s annual cap cannot exceed 10% and Oregon’s is set at 7% plus the consumer price index.

Both laws exempt new construction for 15 years, a compromise to encourage developers to keep building, and only apply to certain units.

But that hasn’t stifled tenant activism in California, where nearly half of the state’s 40 million residents are tenants. Supporters say the statewide law — which expires in 2030 — doesn’t go far enough.

Voters in the San Francisco suburb of Richmond and the southern California beach town of Santa Monica will consider moves to further tighten existing rent caps to a maximum of 3%.

In the city of Pasadena — home to the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl college football game — voters will consider a move to create a rent watchdog and limit rent increases to 75% of the price index consumption, which proponents say translates to 2% to 3% per year.

Rent stabilization advocates failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for the 2018 ballot, and they thought it would be difficult this time around because the state had protections in place. But campaign field manager Bee Rooney said tenants financially wrecked by the pandemic were eager to support the initiative.

“Any amount you don’t expect is a lot,” Rooney said. “Some people, their rent has doubled or increased by 50%.”

Pasadena retiree Paulette Brown received the state-authorized 10% raise in July, bringing the rent for her two-bedroom apartment to $1,175 a month. Budgeting will be tighter.

“I really can’t afford to have any mishaps because I can’t salvage anything,” said Brown, 64, who lives with his daughter and grandson.

Opponents of the measure, which include national and state associations of real estate agents, say cutting rent increases to a fraction of inflation will result in landlords pulling rentals off the market and minimal maintenance.

“What’s on offer here is draconian, and for the most part, landlords who have good tenants aren’t trying to get rid of them,” said Paul Little, president and CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. .

Michael Wilkerson, senior economist at ECONorthwest, based in Portland, Oregon, describes state laws in California and Oregon as “anti-tariff” measures aimed at protecting the most vulnerable renters from exorbitant increases, while encouraging the development of new housing.

Rent control policies have been around for decades, introduced after World War II in New York and elsewhere to combat rising housing prices and again in the 1970s in the Northeast and California. However, the real estate industry has since succeeded in passing state laws that have made it difficult, if not impossible, for many local municipalities to cap rents.

Data on rent control is mixed. The policy, according to Report of the Urban Institute, was found to reduce rent for covered units in Cambridge, Mass., San Francisco, and New York, but resulted in no significant decreases in cities in New Jersey.

However, some studies have shown that rent control can reduce the number of units available and discourage landlords from maintaining them.

Opponents also say rent regulations can scare off developers. The original St. Paul’s ordinance, for example, applied to nearly all housing, and mandated landlords stuck to the 3% cap even with new tenants.

Within weeks, council members heard from developers who accused the new law of scuttling housing projects because they had lost funding. Building permits issued for new homes through August fell 31% from the four-year average.

In response, the city council approved amendments in September to exempt social housing as well as new construction for 20 years. It also allows landlords to raise rents by 8% plus the consumer price index after a tenant leaves.

Orange County’s ballot measure is on hold after an appeals court rejected the proposal last week and suggested it would not be certified even if voters approved it.

The court, which recognized that the state law “sets an extremely high bar” for local governments to pass rent control ordinances, said a consultant hired by the county did not identify any housing emergency – a requirement under a 1977 state law anticipating local rent control. .

The county plans to file a motion for a rehearing and with ballots already out, the Orange County Supervisor of Elections said he has no plans to issue any new ones. Supporters of the measure said they would continue to campaign.

For tenants like Jessy Correa, the setback means she will face a 20% rent increase for her three-bedroom Orlando apartment in January. The 44-year-old mother of six is ​​already struggling to pay the current rent of $2,300.

A recruiter at a faith-based nonprofit, she hoped the ballot initiative would “bring stability, give us a moment to breathe.” Instead, she is now forced to make difficult choices, such as finding another job.

“Where is the American dream of being able to live, enjoy?” she asked tearfully after learning of the court’s decision. “What do we do? It’s frustrating.”

About Alma Ackerman

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