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Prop. 21: Rent Control Returns To California Ballot Amid Pandemic, Presidential Race

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Rent control could be expanded statewide if voters approve Proposition 21.

"Prop 21 allows us to limit housing costs, it allows us to preserve affordable housing and thereby to prevent homelessness," Rene Moya, the Campaign Director for Proposition 21 said.

"It's just bad housing policy," said Rental Housing Association President Sid Lakireddy. "I mean, there is a housing crisis, but this is not the solution to the housing crisis."

Proposition 21 gives cities the ability to expand rent control and would apply to housing that is more than 15 years old. It could also be applied to single-family homes or condos if the owner has more than two properties. It also limits rent increases when a new renter moves in.

Prop 21 is a referendum on the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 1995 law that drastically changed each city's ability to enact rent control. Voters were faced with a similar choice to expand rent control and make changes to Costa-Hawkins with Prop 10 back in 2018, but it didn't pass.

"This is a presidential year, we know that the electorate will be several million, much larger than it was in 2018, it'll be a more representative sample of the state of California," Moya said.

Moya says it'll be different this time and that COVID-19 is making people more aware of tenants who are living on the edge.

"Over five million renters in the State of California are at risk of losing their homes in the coming months and that is on top of the fact that already a majority of renters in the state were paying too much money on rent," Moya said.

The Legislative Analyst's office says Prop 21 will result in tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state every year, which is one reason why Lakireddy opposes it.

"It decreases the value of housing stock, hence decreasing revenue to cities and it decreases the quality of housing while increasing the rent for that lower quality housing," Lakireddy said.

He's a small property owner and says rent control in cities like San Francisco and San Jose is keeping rents high during the pandemic, as landlords don't want to drop prices for current tenants out of fear they'll struggle to raise them again when the market recovers.

"You would see rents come down even more if there was no rent control, because at least then you could bring them back around when the economy comes back," Lakireddy said.

Supporters of Prop 21 include Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Democratic Party of California. Opposed are Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Apartment Association and the California Builders Alliance.

Real estate groups spent $76 million fighting Prop 10 in 2018; so far, the "No" side is outraising the "Yes" side yet again. Supporters have spent just over $24 million so far; opponents just over $44 million.

"We're going to have to just kick the can down the road, you may make a few people today happy, but overall, as a state, I think we'll suffer again," Lakireddy said.

"We all need this and we all need it to be able to confront, especially the bad actors, those giant corporations who are buying our housing stock and making housing in this state unaffordable," Moya said.

59% of Californians voted against Prop 10 in 2018. Supporters hope with a larger percentage of people voting in a presidential year things will be different this time around.

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