This is it. Go time. Election Day is almost here. To encourage Californians to vote, the Yes on 21 campaign assembled a number of state and local elected officials to explain why they support Prop 21, the Rental Affordability Act, and why it’s such a critical issue on the ballot.
Prop 21 is the statewide ballot measure that puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases, reins in corporate landlord greed, and prevents homelessness. Top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agree that sensible rent limits are key for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. That’s why the California Democratic Party, the ACLU, the California Nurses Association, the California Alliance for Retired Americans, Black Lives Matter, the Los Angeles Times, and a slew of LGBTQ organizations and individuals — including LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl — have thrown their full support behind Prop 21, the Rental Affordability Act.
Yes on 21 Policy Director Susie Shannon announced the esteemed lineup (in order, as seen below) on the Zoom webinar: Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu; Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb; Santa Monica City Councilmember Sue Himmelrich; State Senator Maria Elena Durazo; Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, State Senator Henry Stern; Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Wendy Carrillo; L.A. City Councilmember Kevin de Leon; AHF’s Ged Kenslea; and West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath. L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin also spoke.
Shannon explained what’s at stake. “Prop 21 is very important for preventing homelessness and preserving affordable housing by allowing our local municipalities to expand renters assistance and rent control in our various districts. We have over 150,000 people who are homeless right now and many people are facing eviction. Right now, your city council members and County supervisors have no freedom to help those tenants who are not under rent control, including the eviction moratorium,” Shannon said. “So, we’re going to stop that and hopefully we are going to stop the increase in homelessness that we see in California year after year.”
Councilmember de Leon spoke first. “This is an inflection point in our nation, state and city’s history because we have looming on the horizon come January 31st a tsunami of evictions. Once that moratorium expires, if we can’t handle the 150,000 unhoused individuals today in California, how are we going to handle more than a million-plus working class families who will have been denied their ability to work due to COVID-19 and their ability to pay for that roof over their head?”
He noted that Prop 21 does not require or mandate any policy. It allows municipal governments the right to decide their own fate. “Each local government should have the right to make the decisions that are necessary to protect tenants, who the vast majority of Californians,” tenants working families, people of color, especially Latinos, Latino immigrants.
De Leon, who helped organize the important Oct. 16, 1994 march against Prop 187, put the restrictive Costa-Hawkins state law in historical context. “The 1990s was a very dark bleak period for people of color, especially Latinos,” he said. In 1994, Governor Pete Wilson was seeking re-election on the back of the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and the anti-bilingual education initiative, Prop 227. The anti-affirmative action Prop. 209 was also on the ballot. De Leon pointed out that former Senator Pro Tem David Roberti almost single-handily blocked the Costa-Hawkins Act from becoming law, until he was forced out by term limits in 1995. The has biggest impact has been on working families, people of color, and especially Latinos and Latino immigrants “who need a safe sanctuary for their families.”
Senator Durazo, who was also a frontline organizer during the fight against Prop 187 in 1994, stressed the severe impact on Latino families is because of the integration of undocumented members into mixed status families. “There is no safety net that covers the undocumented,” she said. They do not get unemployment insurance with the loss of jobs and don’t have or don’t realize they have access to Medi-Cal. “So, these families are going through two, three, four different worse scenarios than any other Californian.”
Senator Stern told a personal story to underscore that 70-75% of low-income seniors are rent burdened. Stern got married last November and unexpectedly had to take in his 92-year old father-in-law, Joshua.
“[Joshua is] a Jewish immigrant from Hungary. He survived the Holocaust, three wars in Israel and he made his way out to Los Angeles about 40 years ago. He became a working-class plumber and had been living in a rent controlled apartment just off Third Street in the old Fairfax community for about 25 years,” Stern said. “Well, the building got sold and the new landlord decided that they were going to leverage and try to find a way to flip a tenant like Joshua out of that building. They stopped maintaining the common areas, which made it dangerous for him to walk to his door. The stairs started falling apart. He basically got pushed out of his home and constructively evicted.”
Enforcing tenant rights for seniors on a fixed incomes with nowhere else to go is difficult. “Joshua has been living with us,” said Stern. “But not everyone has that safety net and their family. And so I’m voting for Prop 21 because this is real. This is affecting families all over our state — people who are slipping through the cracks. And Kevin’s right, it’s only going to get worse here.”
Assemblymember Bonta from the Alameda/Oakland area was also emphatic in his support on Prop 21. “We’re in a full-blown crisis. It’s a state of emergency. We need all hands-on-deck. We need all tools in the toolbox. There’s a reason that the State of the State [address] this year for the first time in the history of California was all about homelessness and housing affordability in California — because it impacts so many of us and it’s at such dire levels,” he said.
“Not all heroes wear capes,” including “our frontline workers who are fighting for us, who’re putting their health on the line, their lives on the line so we can have our health and our lives — many of them are at risk. Many of them are housing insecure” and could lose their shelter without additional protections. The prospect of Prop 21 not passing and vulnerable Californians “being evicted into homelessness is absolutely immoral, unacceptable, not who we are, not who we can be,” he noted.
Prop 21 protects the “mom and pop,” single family homeowners, incentivizes investment in new construction, helps keep limited affordable units in California affordable and allows landlords or property owners to continue to make a reasonable profit, Bonta said. “So, this is fair and this is right, and it is thoughtful and it’s what California needs to do. Let’s vote Yes on Prop 21 to get this thing done.”
“We know folks that are living on the margins and are living in their cars,” said Assemblymember Carrillo, who represents District 51 in the Northeast Los Angeles and East Los Angeles areas. “Prop 21 will address that problem, allowing for cities to set rent control and buildings that are over 15 years old, helping create stability in our neighborhoods, which would help those strong communities that we can all be a part of. Communities are only made by the people who lived in them.”
Prop 21, she added, “will give millions of seniors, families and workers in California stability and peace of mind” by preventing corporate and predatory lenders and landlords from rent gouging and guaranteeing that land owners will be able to gain profits on their real estate investments while exempting homeowners who own no more than two single family homes. “Our housing crisis in California demands that we work together to bring solutions that will create stability for renters…and at the end of the day, keep families in their homes.”
Assemblymember Santiago kept his message simple. “The rents are too high. People can’t afford them,” he said. “We’re in a historic crisis. A pandemic has hit and people are struggling to make ends meet. And this is a very, very, very modest measure.”
Santiago told of “thousands of people” coming to food lines “They’re looking for a way to feed their young kids. They’re looking for milk for their babies. The bottom line is people cannot afford the rent. We need some sort of dignity and some sort of relief. And this is going to be a very modest way to address that — the ability to control the out of control rent hikes that have been happening across state of California here in Los Angeles. “We are seeing more and more people fall into homelessness. More and more people live in their cars and tents across the city,” he said. “We have to put measures in place to prevent that from happening.”
West Hollywood Mayor Horvath talked about how Costa-Hawkins has impacted the city created in order to secure local rent control.
“I constantly have people come to me and tell me, ‘You know, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was really easy to move around in West Hollywood because we had rent control and we were able to live in a lot of different places…But now, because rents are so high, it’s so difficult to afford to live in the city,’” she said. “We need to protect affordable housing. We need to protect people and the housing that they can already afford, that they’re already in. We need to protect our LGBTQ community in West Hollywood. We need to protect our seniors who are struggling just to make ends meet and keep food on their table. We know that at the city, at the County and at the state level, we’ve enacted rent moratoriums to try and keep people in their housing in this difficult time. Why would we ever think of increasing people’s rents in this difficult time? Now is the time we need to take back control. We need to put it back in our city halls, in our city councils and have reasonable and rational conversations about what rent is affordable in our communities.”
Horvath added: “I know that if I didn’t have rent control housing in West Hollywood, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live there. And with 50% of my community under the age of 40, we can’t close the door on the next generation because of our communities becoming unaffordable for anyone new to come in.”
Santa Monica City Councilmember Himmelrich said Santa Monica is “ground zero for rent control.” In 1998, 70% of their housing was affordable to people making less than area median income. Now only 10% of the city’s rental units are affordable to those who make area median income or below. “We are the picture of gentrification,” she said. “We don’t have a housing crisis. We have an affordable housing crisis because there’s loads of market rate housing.” In fact, “we have half a million excess market rate units,” unaffordable for people “who are just making a regular living.”
Himmelrich added: “We want our workers to live in our cities. We want our cities to be affordable. We want to have economic diversity in our cities. And what is keeping us from having that kind of diversity — from people living near their jobs and from people not living six people in a one bedroom unit — is rent control. Rent control is the last vestige of affordable housing that we have in California. So Yes on Prop 21!”
L.A. City Councilmember Bonin also talked about gentrification.
“I represent a part of the region that is being decimated by escalating housing costs and by gentrification. And if you have a young school kid in our part of town or part of the city, when they go back to school, none of their teachers live anywhere near the schools. They’re all commuting an hour or two to get to school. If you go to the doctor or a dentist in our part of town, the dental technician, or the person who checks you in has driven 90 minutes to get there, to work because there’s nothing left that is affordable on the West Side of Los Angeles,” he said. “The only affordable housing left are the ones that we are building for triple H and are the things that are being maintained through rent control.”
Prop 21 is modest, reasonable, and “profoundly significant. It is the most significant piece of anti-eviction legislation that we can approve in California right now,” Bonin said. “We are exhausted talking to people in encampments and living in their vehicles — before the pandemic — who are crying because they have either just been evicted or are facing eviction, parents of young children, grandparents, widows. It’s brutal out there….“We live in an era of bizarro politics where governments at all levels are doing the opposite of whatever the crisis demands. Costa Hawkins being in effect right now and prohibiting us from doing rent control is the same logic that has a federal government not extending relief programs for people in the middle of a brutal recession. It’s the same logic that has a federal government trying to take away healthcare coverage in the middle of a fatal pandemic….This is an absolutely necessary tool and I’m not beyond begging the electorate in California to approve this because, at the local level, we needed it. Please, please, please vote Yes on 21!”
L.A. City Councilmember Ryu slammed Costa-Hawkins as the state law that “time and time again has stopped all meaningful efforts to limit rent hikes, even as thousands of family fall into homelessness every week, every year, even during this pandemic.”
But in this election, “we have a chance to turn the page and change history. That chance is called Proposition 21,” said Ryu. “If we can pass Prop 21, we could save roughly 5 million Californians who will face what my colleagues have called ‘an eviction tsunami.’…Right now renters, working families are hanging on by their fingertips. Their bills are piling up and their debts are growing. What they need is relief, not a rent hike. Vote Yes on Prop 21.”
Councilmember Kalb closed out the webinar talking about how the lack of affordable housing directly impacts the larger community. Seven years ago, he met two young new elementary school teachers who struggled all year to find a place to live and eventually moved to other school districts.
“If somebody works at a city, they should be able to live in that city,” Kalb said. “And right now, that’s not the case. We know that many of our cities have rent control of one form or another. And some renters on one city block have protections and other renters living a half block down — because of the kind of building they’re in — don’t have those same protections. That is patently and blatantly unfair and harmful to the good of our city, harmful to our community and harmful the people who work at our city and want to live here and don’t make a lot of money. Prop 21 will help change that.”
Kalb added: “So many people can be helped by Prop 21. That is why it is so crucial that we pass it. We can’t believe the misinformation campaign from the Real Estate industry. Everybody who’s listening to this — call your friends, your neighbors, email anybody who you think to email — tell them do not believe the lies. Support Prop 21. Give us the tools we need to reduce displacement and help a larger number of our renters in all of our cities up and down the state. Thank you.”