To the Editor:
Recent letters by Randy Silverman and George Azar support the need for continued rent and eviction controls, in spite of overwhelming evidence that Berkeley-style rent control was poorly written and suffered from radical administrations that actually jeopardized tenants rights. Azar's view of the “disaster” years of 1990 through 1994 was so misleading it reminded me of public school textbooks in Germany that essentially viewed history as something that began after 1945.
Azar claims that the moderate backed rent board (1990-94) “caused unprecedented renter hardship.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Rent control was under close scrutiny by the courts after a 1990 decision revealed incompetency at its highest level and the courts ordered the rent board to correct the mistakes brought on by the radically controlled board that prevailed throughout the ‘80s.
The moderate-backed board that Azar condemns, passed court-ordered and voter mandated increases and, in so doing, saved rent control from further constitutional scrutiny and elimination. The moderates also revived Berkeley's rental housing stock and revitalized Berkeley's neighborhoods and tax base. Those are major accomplishments that are anything but disastrous.
Rent control never addressed the needs of the low income people which it was supposedly written to protect, since there were never any income guidelines or means testing measures. As a result, anyone could – and did – benefit from Rent Control, including higher income tenants who did not need it. Silverman states that most beneficiaries of rent control are not yuppies, yet he nor any of his contemporaries have ever commissioned any study of the true benefactors of rent control, for fear of revealing the facts.
Rent control as a matter of public policy has so many flaws it could be the subject of a master's thesis. In fact, a 1989 dissertation by Michael St. John proved that rent control cost Berkeley more than $200 million in lost tax revenues. The special assessments that make up the majority of today's homeowner property tax bills are specifically needed to replenish the coffers that rent control depleted.