Only one candidate for governor wants real rent control

At a NARAL debate, all four Democrats were strong on reproductive rights -- but only Delaine Eastin said she would protect tenants

You wouldn’t expect much disagreement among four Democratic candidates for governor at a forum on reproductive rights hosted by NARAL, and tonight in San Francisco, we got what you would expect. All four agreed with each other – and the hosts – on most of the major issues related to women’s health and abortion rights.

Delaine Eastin wants to protect tenant rights

In fact, if anything, at the debate tonight they were trying to outdo each other for who was more pro-choice. Truth is, they all are.

There were interesting distinctions, though –some of the candidates (especially John Chiang and Antonio Villaraigosa) were a bit unclear on how the state should respond to the fake reproductive rights centers that have been cropping up all over California. There are more than 200 places ow that advertise as pregnancy crisis centers – and they’re run by the religious right, with the goal of intimidating women into accepting an unwanted pregnancy.

The state Legislature passed AB 775, which mandates disclosure for these creepy fake “health clinics,” but it’s now in the courts (and it’s not clear how the Trump Supreme Court will rule). So the question was: Beyond that law, what can you do about this scam?

John Chiang said something about challenging the center’s nonprofit status. Antonio Villaraigosa talked about working with the attorney general. At least Gavin Newsom and Delaine Eastin were clear: The governor has to call them out, help the public understand what these places are.

The Gavster had a lot of great lines, but won’t commit to repealing Costa-Hawkins

The bigger distinction: Only Newsom and Eastin were clearly in support of single-payer health care. Villaraigosa talked about raising the floor for access to Medicare, and Chiang said that all of the candidates “generally support single-payer” but wanted to know how to pay for it.

Newsom pointed out that maternal mortality rates in the US are the highest in the developed world. He was clearly the best informed on the health-care issue.

Eastin, the only woman in the group, in many ways stole the show. She was the only one with a sense of humor, the only one who talked about the need for affordable child care, and the only one who didn’t seem to be repeating well-prepared lines. When the candidates were asked about providing abortion pills on college campuses, and birth-control pills over the counter, Newsom said something about how we have to “step up and step in.” Eastin just said: “For heaven’s sake, why would that be a problem?”

Antonio Villaraigosa was shaky on single-payer — and on rent control

Before the debate, I went backstage and got a chance to talk to all the candidates. My question was of a different nature – and I got very different responses. I wanted to know where the candidates stood on repealing Costa-Hawkins and on Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 827, which would give massive density and height bonuses to private developers who build near transit lines.

First: All of the candidates like SB 827, although none of them seemed to understand what it would really do. All of them said they wanted to build more private-sector housing.

But Eastin was clear on Costa-Hawkins: She’s for repeal. “It’s been a disaster,” she told me. “I have never seen so many so many homeless people on the streets.”

Repeal would allow cities to extend rent controls to vacant apartments. That would radically cut down on evictions. It might be the most important thing anyone in Sacramento can do right now about the housing crisis and homelessness.

The Three Guys were all, in one way or another, ducking the issue. Chiang told me “we have to do something, but I’m not sure what.” Villaraigosa said he voted against Costa-Hawkins in the legislature but wasn’t sure what to do now except to push for more inclusionary housing. Newsom said, “I have dived too deep into that,” although he was the mayor of a city that suffered under a lack of effective rent control.

There you have the state of California politics, 2018.

  • Matthew Barnes

    Yeah. Get rid of CH. Let’s make more slums in California!

  • Don Sebastopol

    Costa-Hawkins is the cause of homelessness? How so.

    • curiousKulak

      Because, if someone (dies and) leaves an $800/apt, which will then only be ($816/), then all those homeless people would be able to afford it – so wouldn’t be homeless.

      Don’t you realize that landlords would just LUV to rent to homeless types – if the homeless could only afford it. Why rent to a clean-cut techie who’s never there, when you can rent to a ranting, smelly, erratic bum who never leaves the premises except to score.

      Vacancy Control is such a good idea that even NYC once had it. They don’t seem too interested in expanding it though – unlike some kooks in CA.

      • Actually, Berkeley, Santa Monica and West Hollywood had vacancy control in the 1980s. Housing stock did not deteriorate, landlords didn’t go broke or abandon property … it worked pretty well. The main thing that happened in Berkeley is that significant money shifted from landlords to tenants, who then had more cash to spend, boosting the local economy (and some would argue creating the Gourmet Ghetto and Fourth Street).

        • Don Sebastopol

          The other benefit was that it reduced new rentals in favor of more owner occupied and helped to convert rentals to owners. Vacancy control would also solve the housing crisis without the need to add any additional housing units; a win- win.

          There was a study that “show that vacancy control regulation contributed to lower rents and longer tenure by tenants. However, there were also fewer new rental units created in these areas than in the comparison areas and apparent conversion of a portion of the housing stock from rent to ownership.”

          • Seth

            when they say that more rentals became owner occupied, they don’t mean that more renters became owners. They mean that more housing that was available to those who can only afford to rent became unavailable.

          • Don Sebastopol

            True, they would not know from the data who became owners, only that the unit was converted from rental to owner occupied. Presumably the increased supply of units for sale would lower the price of owning. Also true is that number of rentals would be reduced but that should not affect the rent because of price control. Added to supply of owner units would be new condos being built in favor of new rentals. From my thinking increasing ownership is a good thing. BTW, Berkeley, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood were included in the study.

        • SnapsMcKenzie

          How does it make any sense to keep an apartment’s rent at levels not seen in 30 years, once the apartment becomes vacant? That would create massive structural imbalances in the economic system and ensure owners would find very quick ways of exiting the rental business. It would also pretty much eliminate being able to use rental properties as secured assets for real estate loans, as a revenue stream limited by vacancy control would mean no bank would ever lend the owner money for expansions or improvements using the rent as income. Insane idea. And BTW – Gourmet Ghetto started in the 70s, not the 80s.

          • Seth

            Tim, I am a property manager and realtor in Berkeley. We have a HUGE problem with deteriorating housing supply. You don’t have to take my word for it either. You can drive around South Berkeley and see it yourself. In fact, the Berkeley rent board has had to expand its authority to cover “preserving the existing housing stock.” This is in large part because owners of older rental housing are losing money by doing preventative maintenance. The rent ordinance is pegged at a PERCENT of inflation (technically a percent of CPI, but that is used as a measure of inflation). That means that the longer a property is owned, the more that the costs of things like a new roof grow proportionally to the income. As long as periodic vacancies allow for the intermittent growth of the income, this can be offset long term. But, if you dissalow vacancy decontrol then every time a landlord has to spend 3 or 4 months of a units rent on a new water heater they are losing more and more money. In 5 years that could be 6-9 months rent. And that is just a water heater. If you peg income at a permanently lower rate of increase than the rise in costs, eventually someone is going to just walk away from the building. Every study of rent control has concluded that it costs new renters to benefit existing renters. And there is another disturbing trend that has resulted: More and more of the property in Berkeley has become owned by less and less people. To some degree this is the overall affordability crisis. But it is also because mom and pop operators can’t manage a rent controlled building. It requires a professional manager. And that costs. When profit margins are small, the only people who can afford to work, do it in bulk. What we need is smart things like vacancy taxes on commercial buildings so that unused retail space is worth converting into residential. We need motivation to build new housing and the disempowerment of NIMBYs. We need to accept that the way to make affordable housing affordable is to make enough housing that the poor aren’t competing with the rich for space to live.

          • Kraus


            You’re way to sensible, knowledgeable and rational for the “48 hills” crowd.

          • zutsa

            You should write an op-ed. I’d like to learn more.

            Unfortunately, since you’re a realtor, you’re disqualified. Everything you say can and will be flipped against you since you’re basically the enemy to the progressive crowd. You have more money than a homeless person so your critical thinking skills, experience and knowledge of the issue are all moot. It doesn’t matter if what you say makes sense or is 100% true; it’s all about optics and identity.

          • Don Sebastopol

            When there was vacancy control owners did exit the rental business. They also exit the business under rent control alone but not very many judging from the low number of Ellis evictions in SF. However, if rentals are converted to owner occupied that may be a good thing.

        • curiousKulak

          Can’t really speak to WHollywood or SM; but Berkeley DID (does) see deterioration in housing stock. Given that the period was relatively short (15 yrs – unlike decades for NYC and particularly the Bronx), its long term effects weren’t painfully manifest.

          Also, don’t forget, small props were exempted from RC in Berkeley – like previously in SF. Once Ted got small props bound up in SF, all heck began to break loose in Rent Control land. And admittedly, there were a few bad actors, but responses were ham-fisted and politicized.

          Also, the 80s were the start of the whole Yuppy phenomena – people with money, “gentrification”. So claiming RC/VC resulted in a blooming ‘Gourmet Ghetto’ is a bit of a stretch. The effects of VC – by its nature – don’t manifest for a number of years (current tenants stay put, due to RC, but then Life happens, and they eventually move. Then VC intervenes and its effects manifest further years down the road, as rental income shrinks/residents pay marginally less so … can shop more?! Or is it – just richer occupants?

          When RC landed on me (at the hight of a RE bottom – 1994), I felt that it would make much difference. Economically, it didn’t, for a while (although the relationship dynamics were almost immediate) – though eventually even the restriciotns of RC (and particularly Eviction control) made the situation, well, untenable for me, as an owner-occupier. (TL/DR).

          Anyway, the solution revolves around more supply (or less people seeking housing). In 1990, CA had 11.1M housing units for 28M ppl. Almost 30 yrs later, she has 13.9m units for 39,000,000 ppl. 2.8 extra units for an additional 11 ppl. And one wonders why prices have skyrocketed!

          Rent stabilization is plausible; rent control is a cruel fallacy.

      • Seth

        I manage property and sell homes in Berkeley and Tim Redmond is 100% on the money. The number of requests for new multi unit housing permits last quarter in Berkeley was ZERO. No one wants to build new housing here, because the permit process is so bad and there is a very good chance that their new construction that cost them 3 million to get the PERMITS to do is going to be rent controlled by the time it is built. Rent control unfortunately benefits existing renters at the cost of future renters. If you want real progress, then the thing to do is combine eviction protections, incentives for new housing, and more funding for section 8. And I have to say that i object to Curious Kulak’s implication about homeless and drug users. A lot of the homeless are there because of our dysfunctional mental health system or the real pressures of the housing crisis. Lots of techies are rental nightmares, particularly in rent control. A guy who can keep paying $800 a month without batting an eye forever is never going to vacate.

        • curiousKulak

          I will depart from you on several points. Eviction protections are fundamentally a shift in responsibility for cheap housing (“affordability”) from the public sphere to the private.

          Rent control should be a form of stabilization – and not a long term plan for housing those who can’t afford to live in an expensive place. Yes, there are those who society depends on (teachers, clerks, maids), and workforce housing is a needed issue. But it ought to be handled closer to those they serve – so that once the housing and the service no longer have some connection, that housing will go to those who are newer to that service.

          As for the homeless, I have personal experience with this. While my comments were hyperbolic, I believe it corresponds to the whining tone of advocates. As you say, our mental health system is woefully inadequate, and needs to be addressed – but rent control is not the issue or solution for that segment.

          • Don Sebastopol

            How is “workforce housing” defined and measured? Teachers, clerks and maids are still living in San Francisco.

          • curiousKulak

            If the cheapest rent is $1500/, that precludes anyone making <$20k (100% goes to rent?!) from living here. Even an income of $40k is almost intolerable (and remember that's the cheapest – probably an SRO room, or a roommate situation). Teachers, clerks and maids are needed. Absent an effective transport system, they need to live in the city. Some kind of subsidy -whether from the employer or the public is needed.

            But, rent control and most other programs subsidizes that employee – sometimes long after the need of their situation. My sister has such a situation: she has an 8 room place – good when you have 5 children, but now its 'empty nest' and they should really be in a 1BR apt somewhere. However, because its cheaper to stay put than to move – they're depriving the next family of 7 of needed housing (or pushing that family into a 1BR apt). The Market would manage this. But in a subsidized situatoin – with little effective management (which rent control and HUD often is) – there is no account taken for changes in situation or need. Thus, inefficiencies and inequities develop and endure.

          • Don Sebastopol

            I would presume there are negative impacts of the high cost of living on the workforce. The question is how that is measured. Many employers that use lower skilled labor have relocated from San Francisco over the years. There are few employers left, such as insurance companies, that employ a lot of clerical processing workers. However, teachers, clerks and maids still work in SF; teachers, clerks and maids still live in SF.

            Workers with less than a high school education make up around 11% of workers living in SF. Their numbers increased from 2010 to 2015 by 8,000. I presume these are service jobs created by gentrification. SF Residents working in the accommodation and food service industry increased by 6,579.

            In the last few newspaper articles I have read, SFUSD is quoted as saying 70% of their teachers live the City. That is hard to believe. For the average SF worker only 40% live in the City. SF is more affordable for teachers? All the teachers (and principals and school administrators) I know who live in the West of Twin Peaks area, have an employed spouse. In my youth, all the young single teachers I knew had roommates. Their goal was to marry a stockbroker or lawyer and move to Marin! I am assuming that having an employed partner or living in cramped quarters would explain the high percent that live in the City.

            Despite the statewide teacher shortage, there is no evidence that SF has any greater problem recruiting or retaining teachers than other Bay Area jurisdictions. Santa Rosa pays teachers more and has cheaper housing than SF and has the same issues as SF. Young teachers like most young people are more attracted to SF than to Santa Rosa. There were recent newspaper articles about teacher housing problems. The teachers featured were young teachers who had been with the district only a few years. They had to know they were moving to a high cost area when they applied for the job, but they came anyway. In any case, we need to pay teachers more. The salaries have not kept pace with the cost of living. That makes more sense than having SFUSD get into the landlord business.

          • Don Sebastopol

            I agree, if we could somehow entice empty nesters and older people out of their single-family homes it would make more homes available to families with children. On my block several older folks where carried out of their homes; a couple lived into their 90’s. They were replaced by families with children. I would think a widow or widower would be better off moving someplace where they had more social interaction. I think living in an area with multi generations adds to the quality of life. However, facilities such as The Towers or The Sequoia are looking more and more attractive.

  • SnapsMcKenzie

    Good thing she has no chance of winning.

  • djw

    That’s the best news I’ve read in some time. 827 is absolutely necessary to defeat the pro-housing shortage “I’ve got mine screw you” crowd Mr. Redmond represents. Immensely pleased to learn the next governor will be a fan.

    • Don Sebastopol

      Eliminating single-family zoning in San Francisco would mean fewer families with children and would ruin my quality of life. Regarding I’ve got mine, there is turnover and new young people are moving in to my single-family neighborhood all the time. You can have what I have. However, if single family neighborhoods are eliminated, no one will have what I have.

      • Porfirio666

        The Don, touting the NIMBY line from his single-family home on his own block, once again. The view from my home and my block is a little different. But I try analyze the housing crises from a broader citywide and statewide perspective.

        • Don Sebastopol

          Maintaining families with children in the City is a citywide issue and maintaining single family neighborhoods is a citywide quality of life issue. Turning SF into an homogenized cookie-cutter city is a citywide issue.

          • Porfirio666

            Thus Spake The Don of Nimbyhood

          • Don Sebastopol

            I know you do, but I don’t regard NIMBY as a pejorative. People who take good care of their yards are good neighbors.

            The only argument you have is to call people names? That is not a logical argument.

          • Porfirio666

            We have huge housing shortages throughout Coastal California because people have too much control over housing policy in their own neighborhoods. Fortunately, Gov. Brown and the state legislature continue taking important steps to correct this problem.

          • Don Sebastopol

            How is it a problem?The discussion here seems to say that price control (rent control and vacancy control) will solve the problem. If so, we would not need more housing. In any case, SF has much less of a problem compared to other counties. According to the State, SF in not even in the top 10, but Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties are. SF may not need to provide much more housing until other parts of the Bay Area catch up.

            I am not so sure the supply compared to the demand is caused by local control.

          • Porfirio666

            So the housing shortage is not a problem? For you it is not, obviously.

          • Don Sebastopol

            How is it a problem in measurable terms?

          • Porfirio666

            Um, Don? The severe housing shortage in this state is causing many people to spend half their income on rent.

          • Don Sebastopol

            Without getting into a cause, percent of income spent on rent is how the State defines crisis. It is by that measure SF has less of a crisis than Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties. Just doing a quick look at some random Bay Area cities, all of them have renters that pay a higher percent of income on rent than San Francisco. 34.6% of SF renters that pay more than 35% of their income on rent. In other cities it is 40% or more.

            One reason why SF has less of a crisis may be rent control. That is why vacancy control could conceivably solve the crisis without adding more housing. Vacancy control will also have the added benefit of creating more owner occupied housing.

  • Seth

    Tim Redmond, i am very concerned that this is labeled “News & Politics” instead of the more accurate description “opinion.” You are promoting an idea that you believe in, Rent Control as a solution to the housing crisis. You are not critically addressing that underlying assertion, nor are you providing any evidence to support it. Instead, you are taking the position that anyone who isn’t fully supportive of repealing Costa Hawkins is an enemy of renters. Personally I think that a modification of Costa Hawkins that preserves vacancy decontrol, but expands rent control to include more recent housing on a rolling basis would be hugely effective. If you wanted to address the issue of single family homes being rent control, I can see where there is an argument to be made. But ending Vacancy Decontrol is a recipe for slums and a housing shortage. You want to talk about imposing vacancy taxes so that the wealthy owners don’t withdraw housing supply? That has real potential. But the idea that the only way that a politician can be on the side of the people is for them to support unlimited rent control is polemic and pointlessly polarizing. At best it is an opinion that ignores significant research by impartial academic sources. At worst it is a shameful attempt to grab readership by demagoguery.

    • SnapsMcKenzie

      Don’t bother. Tim’s ideas were all set in the 60s and 70s and he’s not changed his mind on a single political issue since then. Want evidence? Just read his essays on housing supply etc… He’s been writing and saying the same thing for the past 40 years. You gotta give him credit for consistency.

      • Seth

        I always assume that someone is rational and reasonable until proven otherwise. Tim’s prose is coherent, he seems familiar with a wide range of issues and I agree with him about a number of things. I am willing to politely disagree with him about this and hopefully have a productive public discussion.

    • Don Sebastopol

      One thing vacancy control should do is solve the rental housing crisis without increasing the supply. A rental housing shortage would not make any difference if the price is controlled. If rentals are converted to ownership it should prevent the housing from becoming a slum. Also vacancy control would not prevent more units for sale from being built, increasing the supply of units for sale.

    • curiousKulak

      Thank you Seth for you comments. “opinion”… vacancy decontrol … polemic … . Your name sounds familiar, so I’s sure you know the nature of 48 Hills; which is informative to a degree, but with a definite editorial bias. So, not the best source of impartial data. However, it is a good gauge of a segment of the political landscape which is not without power to influence policy.

      My personal opinion is that SFH ought not be controlled, But also realize that large players ()hedge funds, private equity groups, etc) have entered this market and distorted values and ability for people to use that housing. So, some kind of cap on the number of units that can be owned and still not be controlled. But I also feel that owner-occupied bldgs ought to not be controlled. As this is a reversal for some places like SF, implementation ought to be carefully done, to involve the lest harm. But make no mistake, rent control itself inflicts harm, so it ought to be limited in the extent that it does.

  • Porfirio666

    “There are more than 200 places ow that advertise as pregnancy crisis centers – and they’re run by the religious right, with the goal of intimidating women into accepting an unwanted pregnancy.

    Ow! That was a painful typo. Please perform a quick spellcheck before you post on your blog in the future.

  • sebra leaves

    Eastin is a breath of fresh air in a state filled with stale smoke and mirrors. Let’s see who comes up with an incentive plan to get the empty apartments rented out. Who can work negotiate with small landlords and tenants to negotiate a new deal that will encourage landowners to open the properties up to tenants that have been taken off the market? Can Ellis Act evictions be dealt with? All of these are state issues that must be addressed by the state legislature. Who is best suited to solve the homeless crisis? Building more housing is not going to solve the housing crisis without some other actions to stop the rising rents and return balance to our economy.