California officially became a rent-control state earlier this month, fulfilling one of the top priorities of Gov. Gavin Newsom since taking office in January.
Supporters are calling it this state’s boldest step to date to address an affordable housing crisis that has grown progessively worse over the years.
The big question is — will it work? There are indications it may not.
San Francisco officials took a stab at rent control, but it failed, according to research conducted by Stanford University. Well, it wasn’t a complete failure. The city’s policy kept some renters’ monthly cost lower, but landlords clapped back by converting their properties into marketable condos or business properties they could rent out without rent-control restrictions. In some cases, property owners just gave up, demolishing their older buildings and replacing them with new ones that did not qualify under rent-stabilization rules.
Keeping the San Francisco experience in mind, one might believe the state exerting control over rent increases could be an experiment.
Most experts agree the key to making California housing more affordable in just about any community is to build more housing. In desirable urban environments, such as here on the Central Coast, that would mean more construction and higher densities than most communities currently allow.
And that introduces the NIMBY syndrome — “not in my back yard.” Santa Barbara County in general is known for its NIMBY activism, which has stopped more than a few high-density, low-income housing development proposals.
The new statewide regulations limit annual rent increases to 5 percent after inflation, and is already in effect. It also limits evictions without cause, which has been a significant factor in the state's mushrooming homeless population.
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State voters rejected a ballot measure last year that would have given cities and counties a blank check to impose rent control rules, some of which most likely would have been far more draconian than the new statewide standards.
North County has a growing homelessness problem, and a corresponding lack of availability of affordable housing units. The county currently has 74 affordable-housing properties, and 16 of those are in the Santa Maria Valley.
The problem for this area is family income vs. monthly rents. The median gross income for Santa Maria households is $50,433 a year, or $4,203 a month. A local household making less than $3,873 a month would be considered overburdened, and nearly 60 percent of households who rent here are overburdened. In other words, households that must pay more than 30 percent of their gross income in rent.
A quick drive around town will reveal a number of apartment projects going up, but will it be enough? And, will enough of those units be in the affordable category to help ease a housing crunch?
The affordable housing issue has many moving parts, including rent controls and homelessness. When thrown into the mix with NIMBYism, it is not difficult to see why there is so much angst about what to do, from a policy standpoint, about creating enough affordable housing to meet the community’s needs.
Yet another concern is what creating more housing will do to the quality of life for people who have lived in this area for years. Those very real concerns are what drive the NIMBY activism, and make the creation of affordable housing so difficult.
The new state rent controls may help, but that will likely be a work in progress, probably for a few years at least.
Local residents need to make their voices heard on this issue, because it will not fix itself.