Public Comment

Repeal Costa-Hawkins

Harry Brill
Thursday November 02, 2017 - 03:18:00 PM

Steve Martinot's Planet article makes several good suggestions for providing affordable housing to Berkeley residents. Among his excellent proposals is substantially increasing fees for developers. If they refuse to pay, their property should be transferred to non-profit organizations that are committed to expanding affordable housing.  

I would also add that it is essential that we attempt to repeal the notorious Costa-Hawkins California Rental Housing Act, which effectively abolishes rent control. A bill to repeal the law has been introduced in the California legislature (AB 1506). Although the bill is now on hold, a vote is expected next year, it is not too early to lobby California legislators in both the Assembly and the Senate. This act, passed in 1995 by a majority of Democrats and Republicans, has been a classic case of Robin Hood in reverse. According to the real estate firm, Zillow, the median average current monthly rent in Berkeley is over $3,000. A studio is about 2,000, and $2,900 for one bedroom.  

It is no surprise, then, that homelessness in Berkeley has skyrocketed to over 1,000. Also not surprising is the change of mix in the Berkeley population. According to a Census study, between 2000 and 2015 Berkeley added more than 7000 households with incomes over $100,000. During these years, Berkeley lost over 6,000 households with incomes below $100,000. The percent of Berkeley's black population declined considerably from almost 19 percent in 1990 (19,309) to 9 percent currently (11,241). Undoubtedly the sky high rents mainly explain why so many low and middle income blacks and whites have given up on Berkeley. 

To build a massive campaign to repeal Costa-Hawkins we must understand a very important issue. It is a mistake to interpret the conflict as one sided on the control issue because it makes those who favor rent control seem unreasonable. The reality is that landlords favor complete control over how much rent they can charge. So due to the enactment of the Rental Housing Act, tenants have very little leverage which as a result has been financially devastating and in many instances has destabilized their lives. However, repealing Costa-Hawkins will certainly not empty the pockets of landlords. Even if tenants prevail landlords would receive a fair return rather than the excessive rate of profit that they are currently exacting.