Ballot Initiative Activism Is Back In California
For the second election cycle in a row, special interests in California are hoping to persuade voters to repeal portions of the state’s existing rental housing laws. The new ballot initiative is essentially the same as the one voters in the Golden State rejected with nearly 60% opposed less than two years ago. It’s a modified version of Michael Weinstein’s 2018 Rental Affordability Act that sought to dismantle portions of the Costa Hawkins Act and open the door for extreme forms of rent control. While there are very real housing affordability challenges facing Californians — and Americans nationwide —Weinstein’s ballot initiative activism isn’t just misguided, it’s at odds with the reality facing renters in California.
Rent control does not achieve the goals that proponents claim. It does not guarantee housing for low-income families nor does it provide long-term housing security. Beyond driving down property values, rent control disincentivizes the maintenance of existing housing and the construction of new housing — further exacerbating housing shortages in communities that need it most. We’ve seen this play out in San Francisco, and nearly every locality that has adopted rent control. As David Black, California State Commander of AMVETS explained, “Our state’s housing crisis needs real solutions, not the false promises contained in this initiative. The Weinstein initiative will make housing less affordable for all Californians and make it harder for veterans to find housing for themselves and their families.”
It’s no secret that California is already facing a COVID-19-induced recession that could last years past the existing public health emergency. As housing markets face severe strains and property owners search for ways to stay afloat, property taxes which fund essential public services could soon be at risk. Legislative analysts in the Office of the California Secretary of State have even found that Weinstein’s Rental Affordability Act could lead to a “potential reduction in state and local revenues of tens of millions of dollars per year in the long term.”
Beyond the fact that rent control makes for bad policy and worse outcomes, Weinstein’s California gambit disregards both the legislative process and the will of voters in California who already rejected this approach in 2018. It also ignores the fact that California legislators already passed laws aimed at addressing housing affordability less than a year ago.
Weinstein’s Rental Affordability Act is problematic. It drastically misunderstands the roots of our housing affordability crisis. It knowingly chooses to ignore those root issues, instead offering a prescription that will only make the problem worse. Wrongheaded ballot initiative activism is the last thing California voters want, and the last thing residents and property owners throughout the state need.