California’s Democratic supermajority offers a path forward that is safe for landlords

Last November, California Democrats won a two-thirds “supermajority” in both houses of the State Legislature, pledging in part to use their power to address the crisis of housing. Every statewide office from governor on down is held by a Democrat.

Given the opportunity to pass basic renter protections in the Assembly last month, the votes of Democrats instead killed or fundamentally weakened all such legislation, in line with the requests of landlord and real estate lobbyists.

Assembly Bill 36 would have reformed the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, and allowed cities to restrict rent increases on apartment units and single-family homes built more than twenty years ago. This cap would only have applied to landlords who own more than ten properties.

Costa-Hawkins bans rent control throughout California on single-family homes, condos and any units built after 1995, while also freezing existing rent control measures from being expanded upon. For Los Angeles, this exempted rent control from being applied to all new development after 1978 and in San Francisco after 1979. The law also prevents vacancy controls, allowing landlords free reign to raise rents on units when a tenant leaves, incentivizing evictions.

The failure of this modest reform to pass through the State Assembly was another victory for pro-landlord forces like the California Apartment Association and the California Association of Realtors. So far this year, these two groups alone have spent over seven hundred thousand dollars in lobbying activities.

In 2018 they were part of a coalition, armed with tens of millions of dollars from bankers, real estate developers and landlords, that ran a far-reaching and lying misinformation campaign against the Proposition 10 statewide ballot initiative. A relentless barrage of ads proclaimed that Prop 10 would “make a bad situation worse.”

The passage of Prop. 10 would have overturned Costa-Hawkins, empowering  local governments with the ability to implement new forms of rent control.

With Prop 10 defeated, editorial boards and major columnists of California’s most prominent capitalist newspapers blasted the uncritical narrative “voters reject rent control.” Politicians were provided a green light to pursue measures with even greater limitations, continuing to leave renters at the mercy of their landlords while being able to call it progress.

With legislative deadlines that came at the end of May of this year, Assembly Bill 1482 was the only renter protection bill to make it out of the State Assembly, but not before being significantly watered-down to lessen the bill’s impact.

The bill would provide statewide caps on annual rent increases. At first, the cap on rent increases was five percent plus inflation. In order to get the votes to pass, the bill was altered to be a seven percent cap plus inflation that expired in 2023. Tenant organizations have commented that even if this bill were to pass, renters could still lose as landlords feel encouraged by the law to always make the same rent increase year after year, stretching already struggling tenants to the point of having to leave.

Another bill, that did not even make it to the floor for a vote, was meant to accompany AB1482 by making it illegal for landlords to evict without “just cause.” Under the failed bill, AB1481, just cause would only include standards such as failure to pay rent. Landlords would also have been forced to allow tenants the opportunity to reconcile lease violations before eviction.

Democratic Party politicians claimed to not have received any request by newly-elected Governor Gavin Newsom to push the renter-protections forward, although his office reports otherwise.

Democrats: Private property trumps human need

More than seven million people in California meet the federal poverty guidelines. Newly released statistics on homelessness for the past two years show dramatic increases across the state. A forty-three percent increase in Alameda County. Thirty-one percent in Santa Clara County. Seventeen percent in San Francisco. A twelve percent increase in Los Angeles County and a sixteen percent increase in the City of Los Angeles in the last year alone.

What kind of solutions are coming out of the Democratic Party? Senate Bill 50, proposed by State Senator Scott Weiner of San Francisco, offers some insight into plans for a major development boom. Despite failing in the Senate to come to a vote, the law is likely to be reintroduced next year.

SB50 would have allowed increased housing density around major public transportation corridors, suggesting that this would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the need to commute using cars.

SB50 also claimed to champion the building of affordable housing in new developments, despite the fact that developers would have only been required to include a small percentage of low income units. Loopholes also existed in the bill granting developers options in certain cases to build any low-income housing completely off site.

Scott Weiner has built his political career by posing as a progressive on social issues while at the same time raking in money from developers and leading brutal campaigns against the poor. Before he was a State Senator, Scott Weiner served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, where he fought to see that sweeps of street tent encampments were enforced. Last year, a UN special rapporteur visiting San Francisco described the homeless situation as “cruel and inhuman.”

Gov. Newsom, also a key ally of the real estate industry, has voiced support for millions of new housing units to be built across the state. Like Weiner, what Newsom is really encouraging is a trickle-down housing plan, where market-rate and luxury units line the pockets of developers, while a small number of allegedly affordable units for working class and low-income residents get factored in.

From the governorship, down to the supermajorities in the State Assembly and Senate, California’s biggest landlords and developers can rest easy at night knowing that their fundamental right under capitalism to profit off of private property is safe with Democrats in charge.

The Democratic party leadership has shown once again that while they pretend to be the “party of the people,” they serve the interests of the rich and powerful. Only the organized people can bring the real change that is so desperately needed.


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