With millions of Californians voting early, they have a golden opportunity to do something that state legislators have failed to do: rein in corporate landlord greed. Rarely do Californians have the ability to swiftly create such change, but that tool is before them now — by voting “yes” on Proposition 21.
Prop 21 puts limits on unfair, sky-high rent increases, reins in corporate landlord greed, and prevents homelessness. It’s why U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the California Democratic Party, ACLU, Sierra Club, and the Los Angeles Times strongly support Prop 21. The need for stable, affordable housing has taken on added urgency because of the COVID-19 pandemic — people must have shelter to stay safe and healthy.
Yet corporate landlords such as Blackstone Group, Essex Property Trust (led by CEO Mike Schall, pictured above to the right), and Equity Residential (led by billionaire Sam Zell, pictured to the left) are shelling out millions to kill Prop 21. They want to keep in place a rigged and broken housing market that allows them to make billions by charging Californians unfair, wildly inflated rents. As a result, over the past 10 years, corporate landlords have raked in mind-boggling profits.
In the 2010s, according to Zillow, U.S. renters paid a staggering $4.5 trillion to landlords.
“On Dec. 1,” Zillow reported last year, “the nation’s renters didn’t just make their last rent payment of the year – their landlords also collected their last rent payment of what was a very lucrative decade. All-in-all, U.S. renters paid roughly $4.5 trillion in rent during the 2010s, capped off with $512 billion in 2019 alone.”
California landlords were especially making gigantic profits.
Zillow found that in 2019, Los Angeles renters paid a shocking $39.2 BILLION to landlords. San Francisco renters shelled out $16.4 billion. San Diego renters forked over $10.3 billion. Riverside renters wrote checks totaling $7.4 billion. San Jose renters paid $6.5 billion. Sacramento renters delivered $4.8 billion to landlords. Massive amounts paid by seniors living on fixed incomes, working-class families, recent college students, and teachers and nurses.
By passing Proposition 21, Californians can finally bring balance and fairness to the housing market. In fact, top experts at USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley agree that sensible rent limits are key for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis.
In the University of Southern California’s Rent Matters report, esteemed professor and co-author Manuel Pastor wrote: “The housing crisis requires a range of strategies, [and] moderate rent regulation is a useful tool to be nested in broader strategy. It has fewer damaging effects than are often imagined, it can address economic pain, and it can promote housing stability. And housing stability matters because it is associated with physical, social, and psychological well-being; higher educational achievement by the young; and benefits for people of color.”
The USC study found that rent limits do not increase the rent of non-regulated units, do not impact the construction of new housing, and help keep rents more affordable for all.
A research brief published by the Haas Institute at UC Berkeley also found that rent limits are critically important for stabilizing California’s housing affordability crisis. Dr. Stephen Barton, a former housing director for the City of Berkeley and co-author of the brief, noted: “When the housing market is as dysfunctional as it is in many parts of California, tenants are effectively subsidizing landlords with rent payments above what a fully competitive market would allow landlords to charge.”
Former United Nations special rapporteur on the Right to Housing Leilani Farha, a hero in the global housing justice movement, succinctly explained what’s at stake.
“As someone who has traveled the world investigating the grave impact that the global housing affordability crisis has had on human rights,” Farha said in a statement, “I understand how important Prop 21 is to the health and well-being of every family and individual in California. Prop 21 will protect renters made vulnerable by the business practices of corporate landlords.”
Farha added, “Through staggering rent hikes and stagnant wages, these tenants are often one paycheck away from displacement or homelessness. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has the potential to be a death sentence. This is why I support Prop 21 and its measures to ensure that tenants in California can stay in their homes.”
Californians have the power to make a tremendous difference this election. They should vote early — and vote “yes” on Proposition 21.
Patrick Range McDonald, the author of this article, is an award-winning reporter and advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.