Housing crisis puts rent control on ballot

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FILE – Election worker Donna Young inspects a mail-in ballot for damage at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters in Sacramento, Calif., June 3, 2022. Unlike in many other countries, elections in the U.S. are highly decentralized, complex and feature a long list of races on the ballot, from president or Congress all the way down to local ballot measures or town council seats. Rules also vary greatly by state. Some give local election offices several weeks before Election Day to process mailed ballots, which includes steps that may include checking signatures or ID information. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

(NewsNation) — Almost half of American families now pay more than 30% of their income for housing — a precarious position making rent control an important issue on the ballot in states and cities across the U.S.

“The gap between the cost of housing and their family’s income is more than it’s ever been,” T.J. Putman told NewsNation earlier this year. Putman is the executive director of Oregon’s chapter of Family Promise, a nonprofit working to prevent family homelessness.

At least half of the propositions on the ballot come from cities in California, one of just two states to have statewide rent control, where residents don’t think the state law goes far enough.

In Pasadena, California, Measure H would limit rent increases to 75% of the Consumer Price Index and stop no-fault evictions. The goal is to stem a homelessness crisis. 

With votes still being counted, yes votes hold a very narrow lead.

“Rents are going through the roof in Pasadena, 10%, 15% for many residents here,” campaign organizer Ryan Bell told ABC 7.

Proponents say rent control and stabilization laws could help families across the country whose rent has skyrocketed in recent months. 

Advocates point to research by the Urban Institute, which found such measures reduced rent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, San Francisco and New York City. Yet that report found no change in New Jersey, and other studies show mixed results.

A Florida referendum to cap rent increases has been challenged in court just days before the midterms. Voters approved the measure but it won’t be implemented until the case has gone through the courts.

Landlords, realtors and other opponents argued before an appeals court that Orange County had failed to establish a housing emergency — a necessary component under statewide laws.

Then, just days before the election, another judge ruled the ordinance will stay on the ballot but will not be certified — a move that will “in essence freeze the proceedings,” the judge said

That emergency piece is critical, as some call rent control a “band-aid solution.” 

Critics say rent control laws cannot keep up with a fast-changing local market, reducing the quality of affordable homes and eliminating important tax revenue while not necessarily slowing rising rents in the surrounding community.

The Florida measure would halt rent increases above 5% or the rate of inflation (whichever is lower). 

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