Whether they are university students looking for a place to live while pursuing their studies, or working adult residents who just can't afford to break into the high-priced housing market, living in rental housing is a daily reality for more than 38,000 households in SLO County.
This election, those residents and others will get a chance to go to the polls and decide whether they'd like to lobby their respective cities and county to enact rent control laws. The statewide ballot measure, known as Proposition 10, could make that a reality. Supporters believe that the measure would give the state's cities the chance to expand rent control and offer relief to Californians struggling with the high cost of living, while opponents claim opening the door to rent control will make the state's housing crisis even worse.
If it passes, Proposition 10 will not automatically enact rent control in California cities. Instead, the measure would repeal the Costa Hawkins Act, a 1995 law that put limitations on when and how cities could pass rent control ordinances. Under Costa Hawkins, cities are not allowed to apply rent control to any units built after 1995, and bans enacting rent control on single-family homes and condominiums. The act also allows landlords to raise rents to a fair market value when a tenant moves out of a rent-controlled unit.
If Costa Hawkins were repealed, California cities would have much more flexibility to pass and expand rent control laws. Giving that control back to local municipalities is the reason why Abe Lincoln, a candidate for SLO City Council, says he supports Proposition 10.
"I think people prefer to let their communities and cities have more input," he said. "Rent gouging, people having to move out of their homes because they can't afford it, these are all concerns from my perspective. I prefer to have as many tools as possible, and I think rent control is one of those."
Yes on 10, the statewide organization supporting the measure, believes that allowing local jurisdictions to pass rent control ordinances is critical to helping Californians struggling to keep up with rent increases, which it says are double that of the national average.
"Skyrocketing rents are forcing families out of their homes and out of the state—creating labor shortages that hurt local businesses," the Yes on 10 website states.
Locally, both the SLO County Democratic Party and the SLO Progressives have endorsed the measure and urged voters to pass it.
But not everyone is SLO County shares that view of the ballot measure. That includes SLO County Assessor Tom Bordonaro, who joined more than 43 other California county and city officials urging voters to vote against Proposition 10. Speaking with New Times, Bordonaro said he opposed the measure because he believed that rent control laws would actually make housing more expensive and undermine local and state efforts to tackle California's housing crisis.
"Landlords will have to shift the cost of rent-controlled housing to housing in places that don't have rent control," he said. "I understand that rent prices are going through the roof, but I just don't believe that this is a solution at all."
John Cribb, a local realtor who's worked in SLO for 31 years, made a similar argument against the measure. Setting price controls on rent, he said, would scare off developers and suppress the construction of new rental housing at a time when the county is already facing a shortage. He also said it would hurt local landlords and property management companies, who would not be able to get a reasonable return on their investment should their city enact rent control.
"Regulating and having price control isn't going to solve the problem," he said. "[Proposition10] opens the door for that to happen.
Supporters of the measure claim such arguments are being used by powerful and moneyed special interest groups trying to scare voters into shooting the ballot measure down. Of the more than $126 million raised in connection with the ballot measure, roughly 83 percent of that money, more than $105 million, has come from individuals or groups opposing the measure. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that just 41 percent of the likely voters surveyed favored Proposition 10, with 38 percent opposed and 21 percent of surveyed voters remaining undecided.
Despite the large amount of money pouring into efforts to defeat Proposition 10, supporters remain hopeful that its success will allow them to take the issue of rent control to their local leaders.
Lincoln said that if the measure passes and he wins a seat on the council, rent control would be something "to take a hard look at."
"I don't believe that rent control is the answer to solving the entire housing crisis, but it is a tool that can help," Lincoln said. "Anything we can do to prevent people from being displaced and keep people in their homes is something we need to do."
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.