S.F. Supervisors Deadlocked in Costa-Hawkins Repeal Vote

The resolution to support Prop. 10 needed eight votes to pass, but received only seven.

A man walks past a for rent sign for a Veritas apartment building. (Photo: Kevin N. Hume)

A controversial statewide proposition that would drastically change the affordability of San Francisco’s housing stock failed to receive the necessary votes of support from the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, in their first full meeting after August recess. The board voted on whether or not to publicly support California Proposition 10, titled the Affordable Housing Act, which would overturn an antiquated 1995 rent-control law known as Costa-Hawkins, and allow local jurisdictions to create their own rules.

The resolution needed eight votes to pass, but only got seven. Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Sandra Lee Fewer, Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen, Jane Kim and Vallie Brown sponsored the resolution, with Norman Yee in support. Supervisors Ahsha Safai, Katy Tang, Catherine Stefani, and Malia Cohen dissented. 

“I think it’s the most important measure … that is before California voters this November,” Peskin said. “For over 20 years, it has deprived cities of the ability to even discuss the potential tools to discuss local housing crises, particularly in San Francisco, where two-thirds of our residents are renters.”

“We have seen the ruthlessness of this law to displace members of their communities,” said Kim, who told the Board about a friend of hers who received a $1,146 rent increase mere weeks after his wife died.

“I cannot the express the rage that many of us felt that a mere 20 days after the passing of a spouse, a landlord would send a letter such as this, which is legal under state law,” she said.

But Tang, who admitted that she herself had benefited from rent control in the past, dissented over concern for small-property owners on the city’s west side who may lose income if their rental units suddenly become rent-controlled.

Costa-Hawkins has two parts. The first prohibits California cities from applying rent control to condos, single-family homes, or anything built after 1995, unless a city had a prior date set, in which case that was then made the legal standard that couldn’t be undone. San Francisco rent control applies to buildings that were built before June 13, 1979.

If Costa-Hawkins were overturned, San Francisco would be allowed to develop its own set of laws. That could mean pushing the rent-control date forward, creating a rolling system, or instituting vacancy controls that would limit how much landlords could up the rent on units once they’re vacated.

The plan seems like a no-brainer, and — aside from the money landlords would lose for not being able to, say, rent out a studio apartment built in 1980 for $4,000 a month — it is a fairly fast and inexpensive for gradually increasing the amount of affordable housing stock in San Francisco. It hasn’t won unanimous support; predictably, the San Francisco Association of Realtors and the San Francisco Apartment Association, which represent building owners, are also the proposition.

But in the end, if the repeal passes, the local battle will just be starting. And Tuesday’s deadlock hints at future discourse in the Board of Supervisors if local control is regained.

“What Prop. 10 will allow us to do is to just start the conversation, to strike the right balance between protecting tenants and protecting landlords,” Ronen said. “It’ll be one of those discussions where we’re battling it out until the very end, but we can’t do that until Prop. 10 passes.”

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