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In the last few weeks, I have been asked several times how I’m voting on Proposition 10, which would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Costa-Hawkins prevents cities and counties from applying rent control to apartments built after 1995 or to single-family rental units and condos.
To those many California families who are struggling to find an affordable place to live, this repeal may appear to be the answer. Sadly, history and an enormous volume of research into this problem have shown that rent control does not create more housing — and creating housing is the primary solution to the pain that so many Californians are feeling.
I am empathetic to the feelings. The feelings are real and visceral, and I get it. But as a leader, I need to act in a way that looks for solutions, more viable long-term solutions that truly create more places to live. The issue is a simple one. However, the solution is enormously complex. The goal is more places for people to live. When the supply increases, competition increases and rational market forces stabilize rents and prevent landlords from simply raising rents.
Now let’s tell each other the truth. We need to build more housing, and the private sector alone can’t build enough, and when it can build, it can’t do it fast enough. This is an issue where government has an important role to play in providing financing and making publicly owned land available. It needs to streamline the permit process and more importantly, it needs to act with both incentives as well as limitations that together move the needle. Government has a role to play in providing tenant protections and adequate enforcement. It is carrot and stick, as well as playing referee. And there is no silver bullet.
If we repeal Costa-Hawkins, new housing construction could decline. More importantly, local jurisdictions will behave in their own interests, not in a coherent statewide effort. There will be local battles, and we need to consider what is always lurking — unintended consequences. Repealed at the state level, the issue will consume local politics with time, money and litigation. No winners. And this distraction will cause us to lose our focus on building more housing — particularly on the need for density along transit corridors. In addition, rent control would set up a new government bureaucracy at a time when local governments don’t have enough resources as it is.
Real leadership is about taking a stand on controversial issues and then working together to find real solutions. I oppose Proposition 10.
I am committed to partnering with my Council members and mayor, as well as our other local, state and federal legislators, housing experts and housing advocates. Let’s work together to identify solutions and implement them.
Barbara Bry is a member of the San Diego City Council, representing District 1.