By Francisco Dueñas, Property Owners for Fair Housing
California is facing a growing affordability crisis. For many people it is getting just too expensive to live here, especially with rents skyrocketing. If you have been feeling the pinch, you are not alone. An estimated 2.5 million low-income Californians left for other states. Perhaps you know someone who left? Moved to Texas or Arizona? Remember when you actually knew someone that lived in San Francisco?
I can tell you a big reason why rents are so expensive in California. It’s a state law called the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act and it limits which properties cities can cover under rent control. If you live in an apartment built after 1995, rent a single-family house or your city doesn’t have rent control, your landlord can raise the rent as much as they want. It’s not illegal. The same is true when a unit becomes vacant. This is why apartment owners, who increasingly are corporations, want to push long-time tenants out when they buy new properties. They aren’t caring about breaking up families or communities, or increasing homelessness.
It doesn’t have to be this way. For things that are necessary for survival, no one should be left unprotected from predatory market forces. Just like we regulate the price of milk, water or utilities, we need to establish reasonable limits on rent increases to keep our communities vibrant yet stable. Community groups are already collecting signatures to put the repeal of Costa-Hawkins on the ballot. And the LGBT community and its organizations need to step up.
Throughout its history, California has been a land of opportunity for many communities. We have attracted immigrants, African-Americans, artists and LGBT people to name a few. Yet today, LGBT newcomers, especially those without a college degree, will find California an inhospitable place. LGBT people face many obstacles to getting that college degree or that well-paying job, even here. That’s why LGBT people, overall, make less money than non-LGBT people. For the LGBT community, fighting for affordable housing is about protecting those in our community that are uniquely vulnerable to a volatile and discriminatory housing market: runaway youth, seniors or disabled people on a fixed income, those fighting substance abuse or domestic violence.
This is also about our values. If we value diversity and heterogeneity, we must foster inclusivity and coexistence. We cannot be a land of opportunity without being a land of affordability. We cannot be a welcoming state, without stable communities to welcome newcomers. Stable housing builds community. As LGBT people we know the importance of community– people that know you, that have your back, that invest in each other. Today we need to take action to protect those communities. Ask your organizations to endorse, and go to www.acceaction.org/rentcontrolnow to volunteer.