Tenant groups, AIDS Healthcare Foundation introduce initiative to repeal Costa Hawkins

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Leaders of tenant advocacy groups and Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, on Monday filed a proposed ballot initiative to drastically expand California’s rent control laws.

The measure would repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits the ability of city and county governments to enact stronger rent control laws.

“The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act needs to be repealed. It’s an obstacle in the way of protecting tenants,” says Walt Senterfitt, with the LA Tenants Union, which supports the initiative. It was filed by ACCE Action and Eviction Defense Network, along with AHF.

If the law were scrapped, Los Angeles city officials could opt to apply rent control to new units. Right now in LA, rent control can only be applied to units built prior to October 1978.

Critics of the law also take aim at the fact that it allows landlords of rent-controlled units to reset the cost of rent to market-rate prices every time a tenant voluntarily moves out.

In February, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, introduced a bill to repeal Costa Hawkins. But he put it on hold just two months later after “significant pushback … from landlords and Sacramento lobbyists from the state’s lucrative real estate industry,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Guy Strahl, a legislative director for Bloom, told the Bee that the assemblymember wants to come up with a compromise. “We’ve decided that at the end of the day, this is too controversial and contentious right now, so we’re going to park it in committee and make it a two-year bill,” he said.

Real estate groups argue that repealing Costa Hawkins would exacerbate California’s housing crisis by deterring new construction.

Experts agree that a housing shortage is one big reason why housing costs are so high. But research has also found that preserving low-cost housing is key to keeping neighborhoods affordable.

Senterfitt pointed to an apartment complex in Boyle Heights as an example. Tenants there, some of them Mariachi musicians who have lived in the area for a long time, are fighting rent increases and evictions, because their building was constructed after 1978 and is not subject to rent control under Costa Hawkins.

“Corporate and investor landlords across California [are] seeking easy opportunities … to kick out long term low income tenants, often families of color, and replace them with higher income people that can pay high rents,” Senterfitt says.

He says it’s a “shame” that Bloom’s bill, AB 1506, hasn’t picked up steam. He and activist Damien Goodmon say they’ll push the Legislature to adopt the bill before launching a campaign to pass their initiative through voters.

Getting the initiative on the November 2018 ballot will require collecting 365,880 valid voter signatures.

Goodmon is now leading AHF’s Housing is a Human Rights project. In a statement, AHF says that “secure housing is a critical determinant of health outcomes.”

Its board has “formally adopted fighting gentrification and housing the homeless as a part of our public health mission. We believe that housing is a human right,” the statement says.

In the spring, AHF bankrolled a citywide ballot initiative to temporarily freeze some large-scale real estate development in Los Angeles. That measure was defeated. Now the foundation is working to develop affordable housing in LA and Florida. One of its local projects is converting a single-occupancy hotel in Skid Row into shelter for low-income tenants and people with HIV “and other chronic illnesses.”

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