Reform the Costa Hawkins Act


January 14, 2018: Last Thursday, over 1,000 activists jammed the halls of the capital as the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee considered the repeal of the Costa Hawkins Act, a state law adopted in 1995 that established limits on local jurisdictions’ ability to impose rent control.

Rent control advocates from around California demanded a repeal of the law, to open the door to expand rent control at the local level, and staunch rapidly inflating prices. Apartment owners and housing advocates argued that more rent control will make it even harder to build much-needed housing in the state, leaving more families out in the cold.

The repeal bill died in committee. But this debate is not over, and lawmakers need to listen carefully to both sides.  

A recent study found that the high cost of housing is driving California’s #1 poverty ranking, and the California Budget and Policy Center cites high rents for keeping 1 in 5 members of our population in poverty. Throughout every corner of our state, communities are facing a housing shortage of unprecedented levels, and housing is more expensive in California than almost anywhere in the country.

I spent 18 years in the housing industry, building master-planned communities for thousands of working families in the Sacramento region. Over the last few years, California has racked up a shortage of at least 1.5 million housing units.

It’s too hard to build housing in California. This can and must change. But building more housing will take time. And meanwhile, the State must step in and do something, now.

I urge the legislature to open up a dialogue over updating and reforming the Costa Hawkins Act. Everyone knows that the law is outdated – it established an arbitrary, fixed date of 1995, after which rent control cannot be imposed by local jurisdictions. It leaves single family homes out. It stays silent on exorbitant price increases. These are all issues that need to be on the table.

Ultimately, the only way to solve our housing crisis is to increase the supply of affordable and moderately priced housing in the state. Rent control advocates should be willing to acknowledge this too.

The fact that the repeal of Costa Hawkins failed to make it out of committee should not create a perception that the issue is settled. Signatures are being gathered to qualifying an initiative to repeal the law, and voters are watching.

This is the last chance for the legislature to take up the issue of reform before it goes to the ballot for an up-or-down vote on repeal. I hope they do.

Aleksandra Reetz