By Peter Maiden
A statewide measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, Proposition 21, would amend the Costa-Hawkins Act of 1995 to shift decision making on rent control in California toward local government. It will maintain provisions protecting small landlords and give developers some flexibility. However, more properties would be covered, and landlords would be allowed only to increase rent 15% over three years after a vacancy, canceling “sky’s the limit” increases that have been part and parcel of gentrification.
Local control, the organizers expect, would create a statewide trend toward stable housing as a human right. It will help small towns in the Central Valley, where progressives have been getting elected.
In the context of high rates of homelessness, Covid-19 and the economic crisis, housing issues have taken on a special importance. René Moya, campaign director of the Yes on 21 campaign, opened a Zoom press conference on Aug. 13 with a shocking statistic: “Right now in California over five million California renters are at risk of losing their homes.”
The first guest speaker at the press conference was community organizer par excellence Dolores Huerta. She said, “Everybody has been told, we’ve got to shelter in place. This is what we have to do, but you know, if you don’t have a home, how can you shelter in place to begin with?”
Huerta pointed out that renters come to the Central Valley from the Bay Area or the Coast because of the lower cost of rent. She said, “They think, ‘Oh, I’m going to go there because the rents are cheaper.’ And lo and behold, then the rents start going up!”
For activists, she added, “We really have to be the soldiers that are out there. And when we look at ourselves and we say, ‘what am I doing? Why should I be doing this?’ [We] remember that we have to be the defenders of the people in our community and engage them…this is a very, very critical moment.”
There were four Central Valley City Council members participating in the virtual press conference: Bryan Osorio of Delano, Daniel Peñalosa of Porterville, Ruben Macareno of Farmersville and Jewel Hurtado of Kingsburg,
“Working-class individuals like myself have been struggling for far too long,” said Hurtado. “It is my firm belief that housing is a human right, and in the middle of a global pandemic, that issue has only been exacerbated.
“So I don’t know about you,” she laughed, “but I know that in my opinion, the rent for too long has been way too damn high! California needs to lead the way to not only make rents affordable, but to give the opportunity for us to live in stability. And of course, with dignity. We need to stand up for young families like mine, for our elderly, our veterans, our immigrants. We know that communities of color are disproportionately affected by this issue.”
Moya added, “The opposition to Prop 21 is coming mainly from giant corporations, these big, big landlords who own thousands of units across the state of California. In fact, these folks are the ones who are trying to confuse voters here in California and say to them that Prop 21 is going to be bad for them.”
He concluded, “We need our local communities to be able to have the tools that they need to do the right thing and stop people from losing their homes. That to me is a strategy that makes a lot of sense in a state as large, diverse and complicated really, as the state of California.”
Mari Perez Ruíz and Art Rodriguez, Central Valley activists who were attending the press conference, are the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the California Democratic Renters Council. They organized the Renters Caucus at the California Democratic Party Convention, and they say that the Democratic Party, in no small part due to their efforts, has endorsed Proposition 21.
Peter Maiden is the photo editor for the Community Alliance newspaper. He studied media at UC Berkeley. Contact him at email@example.com.