For many millions of Americans, winning decent, safe, and affordable housing is an urgent necessity. Housing costs are putting the squeeze on working families in urban and suburban settings alike, especially in communities of color that have long been targeted by predatory housing schemes. Since the financial crisis, housing affordability has grown even worse for workers, as gentrification, rising rents, and the corporatization of rental properties—both multifamily and single-family homes—displace communities of color and increase homelessness.
According to the official records, U.S. workers went on strike seven times during 2017. That’s a particular nadir in the long decline of organized labor: the second-fewest work stoppages recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics since the agency started keeping track in the 1940s.
Protesters turned up at a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Education and shut down debate at a time when a teacher strike in the nation’s second-largest public school system seems increasingly likely. More than 50 adults and students went to the meeting late Monday and shouted at board members in support of teachers and their union, which has been negotiating for more than 1½ years with the Los Angeles Unified School District and its new superintendent, Austin Beutner, the Los Angeles Times reported.
As all eyes were turned toward the big-ticket races in the House and Senate on Tuesday night—as Georgia, Florida, and Texas tiptoed toward history and then hit retreat—activists in cities around the country had their sights set on their own hard-fought prize: a suite of housing initiatives that had the ability to bring relief to millions of renters. Indeed, the mid-term elections were a critical test for this country’s growing tenants’-rights movement, which has emerged as a vibrant political force in recent years as renters and their allies work to combat exorbitant housing costs, rampant gentrification and widespread homelessness.
On August 24, the tenants of two buildings near the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles received letters from their landlord notifying them of a rent increase of over $800 a month. The increase was not a result of repairs or tax increases but rather, the letter said, of the upcoming election in November.
A supply of housing sufficient to meet urban needs in California will not be built for decades, if ever, and right now building doesn’t seem to be helping much. Many of the newer rental buildings carry high-end prices, while stock of affordable housing is actually falling.
Given that, rent control is an easy and off-the-shelf policy tool that many people are familiar with — one that does help some renters and doesn’t appear to cost taxpayers money. “It is the best anti-displacement tool around,” said Stephen Barton, co-author of a recent report that called rent control a key measure toward stabilizing California’s housing market.
Sacramento would cap rent hikes at 5 percent under a measure that qualified Thursday for the 2020 ballot as city residents grapple with soaring housing costs. City officials said Thursday that a petition drive, backed by rent control advocates and labor unions, has gained enough signatures — 44,000 — to qualify for the city ballot in two years. The signatures were independently tallied and analyzed by county voting officials. The “Sacramento Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Charter Amendment” would limit rent increases as well as restrict landlords’ ability to evict renters. It also establishes an elected rental-housing board tasked with monitoring and enforcing rent controls.
California is currently in the grip of an extreme housing affordability crisis. This fall, California voters have the chance to pass Proposition 10 and repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which would return to local communities the ability to expand rent control and limit skyrocketing rents. In National City, residents will get to vote on a measure in November to control arbitrary rent increases by limiting them to no more than a 5 percent increase per year, coupled with just cause to prevent unjustified evictions. Repealing Costa-Hawkins and placing reasonable limits on how much landlords can increase rents each year is an easy, fair and necessary way to help tackle the current affordable housing crisis.