California voters will soon get a third chance to say “yes” to rent control.
This week, the Secretary of State announced that supporters of a measure that would let cities put new restrictions on how much landlords can hike the rent have gathered enough signatures to put it on the November 2024 ballot.
Sound familiar? You may have voted on something like this before.
- Voters didn’t bite in 2018 when Prop. 10, a similar measure, failed by 19 points.
- In 2020, Prop. 21 went down by 20 points.
At a virtual press conference on Thursday, Michael Weinstein, the controversial head of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the chief financial backer of all three campaigns to date, said the third time may be the charm — if only because the rent continues to be too damn high for so many Californians.
- Weinstein: “The situation has gotten so extreme and dire and catastrophic…. We can never give up, that’s the bottom line.”
California’s relationship with rent control is complicated.
A nearly three-decade-old state law blocks local governments from setting rent caps on homes built after 1995,, or to any single-family homes. The law also lets landlords hike the rent as much as they like once a tenant moves out.
The proposed proposition — like its two unsuccessful forebears — would repeal that law, allowing local governments “to maintain, enact or expand residential rent control” however they see fit.
A more recent state law put a California-wide cap on rent hikes of no more than 5% plus inflation with an absolute maximum of 10%. That ceiling is too high for the coalition of tenant organizers, labor groups and local Democratic politicians backing the ballot measure.
If 2018 and 2020 are anything to go by, they’ll have a few obstacles to overcome in 2024:
- Voters: Though their share of the population has inched up over the last decade, renters still represent a minority of Californians — and historically they’re less likely to vote.
- Confusion: In the past, some voters seem to have been confused about what the measure would actually do.
- Money: The last two go-rounds, landlords and business groups outspent supporters by more than two-to-one.
And rent control’s foes are ready to open their wallets again.
- Mike Nemeth, a spokesperson for the California Apartment Association: “In recent years, we joined a broad coalition of pro-housing groups in soundly defeating similar measures…we will prepare to fight this latest proposition.”
About the Author
Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state’s economy and budget. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has written for San Francisco magazine, California magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Priceonomics. Ben also has a past life as an aspiring beancounter: He has worked as a summer associate at the Congressional Budget Office and has a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.
CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.