In recent years, top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley have rolled out important studies that found the same thing: putting sensible limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases is a key tool to help stabilize California’s devastating housing affordability crisis. The real estate industry and the No on Prop 21 campaign don’t want Californians to know about these findings.
In their reports, leading housing, urban planning, and economic experts studied the immediate need and value of implementing rent limits. The independent analyses found that sensible limits on the amount a landlord can raise the rent will bring urgent relief to millions of Californians who are struggling to pay outsized rents and make ends meet.
That relief will come with the passage of Proposition 21.
Prop 21, the November ballot measure, puts limits on excessive rent increases — and helps middle- and working-class renters. It’s why Prop 21 has earned the support of trusted civic leaders and organizations, such as labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, former United Nations special rapporteur on the Right to Housing Leilani Farha, SEIU California, Social Security Works, and numerous others.
In University of Southern California’s Rent Matters report, esteemed professor and co-author Manuel Pastor wrote: “The housing crisis requires a range of strategies, [and] moderate rent regulation is a useful tool to be nested in broader strategy. It has fewer damaging effects than are often imagined, it can address economic pain, and it can promote housing stability. And housing stability matters because it is associated with physical, social, and psychological well-being; higher educational achievement by the young; and benefits for people of color.”
The USC study found that rent limits do not increase the rent of non-regulated units, do not impact the construction of new housing, and help keep rents more affordable for all.
A research brief published by the Haas Institute at UC Berkeley also found that rent limits are critically important for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. Dr. Stephen Barton, a former housing director for the City of Berkeley and co-author of the brief, noted: “When the housing market is as dysfunctional as it is in many parts of California, tenants are effectively subsidizing landlords with rent payments above what a fully competitive market would allow landlords to charge.”
The Luskin Center at UCLA also studied the history of rent control in Los Angeles, diving into the connection between the city’s current housing affordability crisis and unprecedented homelessness. Drawing on history, the report compares today’s housing affordability crisis to the rent increases of the 1970s, noting that people had “something to fall back on — job skills, small savings, or investments.”
Today, wages are not keeping pace with rent increases, and the hardest hit are low-income renters who have no safety net and often end up on the streets. As a result, the report states, “This is an emergency that threatens the stability of our economy and our community. As this paper has demonstrated, government has not hesitated to use its powers to address housing emergencies in the past.”
The UCLA report concludes that California must “[take] action to ensure the availability and affordability of rental housing for all income levels… and [allow] local governments to reassert themselves in stabilizing rents.” That includes utilizing rent limits.
Further, UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project notes that extreme rent hikes continually pose a serious threat of eviction and displacement to Bay Area residents.
Contrary to claims by the real estate industry and the No on 21 campaign, the experts find that rent limits would help bring needed relief to millions of people: seniors, families, recent college graduates, teachers, among many others.
Constant, excessive rent increases are not sustainable as middle- and working-class Californians are already rent-burdened, with many paying over half of their monthly income on housing costs alone. This is especially true as renters struggle through the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reining in unfair, exorbitant rent increases will boost local economies, cut down on traffic congestion due to long commutes, reduce car emissions, create stable housing for seniors and families, and, ultimately, make our communities more viable where all can thrive.
Patrick Range McDonald, the author of this article, is an award-winning reporter and advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.