The signatures have been verified. An initiative whose working title is “The Affordable Housing Act” will be on the November 5, 2018, ballot in California. This measure would repeal the 1995 state legislation which limits local governments’ power to enact and exercise strong rent control.

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The Costa-Hawkins Act limited rent control in three ways: on new construction; on “separately alienable” property which includes condominiums as well as single family homes; and on units vacated by the previous tenant. This last restriction, known as “vacancy decontrol”, affected the five cities in California which at the time had “strong” rent control, or “vacancy control” provisions: Berkeley, Cotati, East Palo Alto, Santa Monica and West Hollywood. All of these are areas which have or might attract university students who move more often than the general population, thus increasing the landlords’ opportunities to raise the rent to market rates. And they did and are doing just that.

The Costa-Hawkins Act was a bipartisan attack on tenants. Jim Costa, now in the U.S. Congress, was a Democratic Party state senator who teamed up with Republican Representative Phil Hawkins to introduce this legislation. But this was no new idea; Costa had been trying to pass a statewide vacancy control bill since the early 1980s, when tenants were successfully organizing efforts to pass rent control in cities throughout California.

Costa’s efforts were blocked by David Roberti, the chair of the State Senate Judiciary Committee until term limits forced Roberti to leave office. Nick Petris, a “liberal” Democratic state senator who represented Berkeley had loyally voted with Roberti to prevent vacancy decontrol. But during his lame duck term in 1995, Petris left the committee meeting without voting on the bill, and it went on to passage by the state legislature.

At their June 23 meeting, the officers of the Peace and Freedom Party voted to endorse the initiative overturning the Costa-Hawkins Act. It will take a united effort by people throughout California to combat the misleading ads which the real estate industry will finance to defeat this measure. It is not too soon to join the campaign to restore our right to strong rent control.

– written by Marsha Feinland

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