After a two-month campaign, tenants-rights advocates have secured enough voter signatures to place a repeal of the controversial Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act on the statewide ballot in November. A product of the State Legislature and enacted in 1995, the law places strong limits on municipal rent control ordinances across the state.
With more than 588,000 gathered signatures, a coalition of renters, small landlords, labor organizers, faith-based organizations, and civil rights leaders held a series of rallies in cities across California last week and celebrated exceeding the 402,000 signatures required to qualify. Nearly 7,600 signatures came from Santa Barbara County voters in support of the initiative, dubbed the Affordable Housing Act. The petition signatures must be validated before the initiative can go to voters.
Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) policy associate Frank Rodriguez said CAUSE is “involved with the statewide campaign, having seen the importance of campaigns to protect tenants across California.” CAUSE is one of some 122 organizations that have endorsed the repeal effort. They’re in the company of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and State Senator Kevin de León, who share the view that municipalities should regain control over local housing policy.
Rodriguez points to current cases where tenants are facing rent increases as high as 70 percent, their only recourse Governor Jerry Brown’s disaster declaration following the Thomas Fire. Such declarations are rare and cap rent increases in declared disaster zones at 10 percent temporarily. Although CAUSE remains focused on the June election, Rodriguez said the group is “excited to work with community leaders to see how CAUSE can support the repeal of Costa-Hawkins.”
Meanwhile, pro-landlord organizations, including the Santa Barbara Rental Property Association (SBRPA), are lining up with the lobby-minded California Rental Housing Association to do battle in the run-up to the November vote. “We think that Costa-Hawkins has worked well over the past 20-plus years,” said SBRPA President James Carrillo. “Obviously we oppose the repeal, and we believe that repealing it, especially as an initiative, which is pretty much a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it [approach], would have a great negative effect on rental housing in California.”
In City Hall, administrators are in a holding pattern, watching and waiting for the signatures to be certified by state election officials. “In Santa Barbara, we need more affordable housing,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo, herself having expressed support for repeal in the past. “If that ballot measure passes, it would give us options in terms of the affordability in new rental properties. The whole state of California will be watching to see if it gets on the ballot.”