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California Passes Rent-Control Law Amid Homelessness Crisis

Critics say state needs more-aggressive action to ease high housing prices. California Passes Rent-Control Law Amid Homelessness Crisis

California will cap rent increases under a new law Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign Tuesday, the most significant piece of housing-related legislation in a year that also saw the shelving of a measure to relax zoning and spur more construction.

Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, said he would sign the bill into law at a ceremony in Oakland, Calif. The governor has said the rent caps and tenant protections are necessary to help people being squeezed out of their homes. The law limits annual rent increases at 5%, plus the rate of inflation, and adds some barriers for landlords seeking to evict people.

“They will provide California with important new tools to combat our state’s broader housing and affordability crisis,” Mr. Newsom said when the rent measure passed the legislature Sept. 11.

But advocates said the California legislature fell short of the action needed to seriously address the state’s rising housing costs and homelessness.

“Rent caps don’t solve the housing crisis,’” said Matthew Lewis, a spokesman for California YIMBY, which advocates for more housing and co-wrote high-profile statewide rezoning legislation known as Senate Bill 50 that was back-burnered until next year. “The root of the problem is a shortage of housing, and it is a severe, long-term shortage.”

SB 50 died this session after some cities vehemently opposed it, arguing the bill eroded local control. The bill’s backers said that without major zoning changes, California won’t be able to build the housing it needs to match its population growth.

“We didn’t see the kinds of game-changing policies out of this legislative session that are going to be necessary to significantly address the housing crisis,” said David A. Garcia, policy director for the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation, which researches housing policy.

More than half of California renters are considered burdened, paying more than 30% of income for housing, including utilities, according to estimates by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

The statewide median home price hit a record high of $617,410 in August, according to the California Association of Realtors, reaching $627,690 in Los Angeles County and $1.6 million in San Francisco. That compares to a national median home price of $278,200, according to the National Association of Realtors.

With 129,972 people homeless in 2018, California is ranked No. 1 in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

During his campaign for governor, Mr. Newsom said he wanted to build 3.5 million units of housing in the state by 2025, an unheard-of pace in recent years. So far in 2019, California is on course to build just 120,302 new housing units, a 2% increase from the previous year, according to the California Building Industry Association.

The rent-cap law faced opposition from groups including the National Realtors Association, which said the measure discourages new rental housing. But opposition to the law was dropped by the California Apartment Association, which represents landlords, after Mr. Newsom negotiated key amendments to the bill with them in August.

The law could add momentum to a budding national rent-control movement after Oregon and New York passed their own caps earlier this year and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced federal legislation last month.

Mr. Newsom has made California’s affordable-housing crisis and a related homelessness problem top priorities for his administration. The governor in June signed a state budget directing $1.75 billion to spur new housing construction and about $1 billion aimed at helping cities and counties combat homelessness.

In January, he filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the upscale coastal city of Huntington Beach, outside of Los Angeles, accusing it of blocking the construction of enough affordable places to live.

Advocates are also hoping he will sign a series of bills passed by the legislature that would make it easier for homeowners to build small units in their backyards, colloquially known as “granny flats.”


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