Rent Control Is Past Due

Saying the words “rent control” in Santa Barbara seems to be enough to give our local talking heads a stroke. Most widely circulated opinion pieces concerning this proposal are soaked with existential horror. I advise the authors of these op-eds and their cohort to cover their eyes before reading further.

Every step toward a more just and equitable future is always met with tales of pending doom. Doom that is, to the owners of capital. During the late 1980s in Berkeley, UC philosophy professor and landlord John Searle was quoted as saying, in a hot-take that has aged like deviled eggs in the sun, “The treatment of landlords in Berkeley is comparable to the treatment of blacks in the South … our rights have been massively violated and we are here to correct that injustice.” Today’s pearl-clutching in Santa Barbara, although more politically correct, is equally false. Since the best response to crocodile tears is to ignore them, we should move ahead with our conversation on rent control. But we must understand it as an opening move in an unending conflict between those who generate value and those who merely own value.

While the right-wing has criticized Mayor Murillo for advancing this discussion at the end of her term, the real tragedy is that she felt politically unsafe doing so before the recent local election. Even if advancing this policy before the administrative handover is “unlikely,” as some have said, it is of desperate, paramount importance that leadership fight heroically to push it through.

Furthermore, we need to continue the conversation. Is 2 percent a low enough rent hike? (The rent will go up that 2 percent, of course.) What about tying rent increases directly to the local Consumer Price Index? What of a Public Affordable Housing Trust? Can we radically reimagine the concept of private property, such that shelter is just as, better yet more, inalienable than ownership?

If you are a tenant or a worker, or if you care about someone who is a tenant, your voice in this fight is tremendously valuable. But even so, the fact that you are alive and healthy is an even more significant feat of political warfare. So please, check in with yourself. Make sure that you are okay. Find community that builds you up. When you are ready, do what you can to make yourself heard. Even the smallest whisper can sway public opinion when there is so much whispering that it turns into wind.

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