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Costa-Hawkins would set back rent control3

Robert Cabrera
Monday December 17, 2001


At the Dec. 13 meeting of the Berkeley Democratic Club, former mayor of Berkeley Loni Hancock, who is running for State Assembly, stated that the repeal of Costa-Hawkins should not be part of the Housing Element of the General Plan.  

In fact, one of her supporters is none other than Nick Petris, who cast the deciding vote for passage of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act; at the time, Mr. Petris was considered one of the most liberal state senators representing the East Bay. Ms. Hancock is also supported by City Council members Breland, Maio, and Spring.  

Costa Hawkins was passed as a response to the catastrophic results of radical rent control in cities such as Berkeley, Santa Monica, East Palo Alto, Cotati and West Hollywood; it allows owners to set a market rate rent on vacant apartments (vacancy decontrol). 

To say that vacancy decontrol should be repealed basically says that we should go back to the housing policies of the eighties. The Census figures best explain the implication of this approach. 

In 1980, when the rent ordinance was implemented, 35 percent of Berkeley housing units were owner occupied, by 1990 this number had increased to 44 percent, which translates into a net loss of 3,967 rental units converted to owner occupancy, or a loss of 8,330 tenants for the decade (using the Census figure of 2.1 persons per household). The data were provided by a September 1993 city of Berkeley document.  

Now let us analyze who were some of these tenants who “disappeared” during the eighties due to the effects of rent control. The number of female head of household with children under 18 plummeted from 3,072 to 2,345, a 23.7 percent reduction; compare this to the statewide increase of 15.9, and the countywide increase of 2.8 in this category. 

The number of Social Security recipients dropped 6.9 percent in Berkeley during the eighties, while all other comparable size cities experienced increases in this category. 

The percentage of lower income renter households also decreased by 10.8 percent in Berkeley, while increasing in nearly all other Bay Area cities (lower income is defined as the category of low and very low income). 

The number of households with public assistance income dropped by 12.7 percent in Berkeley while increasing statewide by 17.7 percent. 

Lastly, Berkeley had the distinction of experience a decrease in the population of residents between the ages of 5 and thirty four.Berkeley was also the only city in which the number of students diminished according to the Census. The UC Housing and Transportation biannual survey confirm this trend showing a steady decrease in the number of students living in Berkeley private housing:, the percentage of students residing in the city for 1992, 1994, and 1997 were 48.5 percent, 52.2 percent and 54.0 percent respectively. (Costa-Hawkins was implemented in 1996). 

(During the decades of the sixties and seventies,before the passage of rent control, the percentage of students living in Berkeley private housing remained fairly constant at 62-64 percent). 

Clearly the trend was reversed with vacancy decontrol (Costa-Hawkins). The Rent Board’s own 1998 survey released in February 1998 showed that in the Campus /Downtown sub-area, the percentage of student households increased from 28 to 44 percent comparing the years 1988 and 1998. 

Thus calling for the repeal of Costa Hawkins in the Housing element of the General Plan basically says that we should repeat the mistakes of the eighties in which the city of Berkeley saw a decrease in female headed households, the poor, the elderly and students. 

To quote professor Michael Tietz of the Public policy Institute of California: “Finding ways to build alliances that could support moderate regulation while relaxing constraints on development might make more sense than fighting the same wars over and over.” 


Robert Cabrera 

President, Berkeley Property Owners Association