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The state of California has the highest average cost of living in the United States, and consequently, the highest poverty rate in the nation. This phenomenon, paired with the state’s rising population, has fed the infamous “California Housing Crisis”, which has heavily affected marginalized communities throughout the state.
In the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, there is one measure on the California ballot that has the potential to roll back some of the roots of this issue in a major way. Proposition 10 would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, an act that prevents cities from enacting rent control on apartment complexes built after 1995; prevents local governments from enacting rent control policies on single-family homes; and allows landlords to greatly increase rents after a rent-controlled tenant moves out. While Prop 10 would not create a new state law, it would allow cities to enact expansive local rent control measures where they were not previously allowed to exist.
Expansive rent control measures are especially important with the state of California’s plan to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023. Increases to the minimum wage are bound to cause increases to housing costs if left unchecked. Capitalism will win out, and higher earners will be able to offer more and more money for the same housing units that would otherwise be targeted toward lower earners, thereby increasing housing costs even more. If cities are unable to enact expansive rent control measures, the minimum wage increases will be for naught, as the very people that were meant to benefit from these measures will continue to be priced out of housing in their own neighborhoods.
The “No on Prop 10” campaign is largely backed by individuals and corporations that hold significant monetary stake in the persistence of expensive housing in California. This campaign is supported by many large real estate groups, such as BRIDGE Housing, GTM Holdings, and Highridge Costa Housing Partners. These groups have an incentive to keep housing costs high, as that will maximize their profits and allow them to build more luxury housing in previously underdeveloped areas. The higher the housing costs, the larger the profit margin for these companies.
There are also several so-called “community development corporations” that have vocalized support for the No campaign, namely the Community Revitalization and Development Corporation. These corporations enter low-income communities with the professed goal of improving them and making them safer for the people who live there. However, without rent control measures, these plans often devolve into gentrification machines and displace the communities that had previously populated those areas.
While several well-known social and racial justice organizations have voiced support for the “No on Prop 10” campaign, these big names, unfortunately, cannot always be trusted. Alice Huffman, the president of the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has voiced her support for the No campaign. In addition to her position as president of the NAACP, Huffman also runs her own private consulting firm called AC Public Affairs. Her company has been paid over $700,000 in recent months to help campaign against Prop 10. In this campaign, Huffman has used the NAACP name to advertise against the proposition by issuing official pamphlets which also mentioned made-up chapters of the large Service Employees International Union to amass more support for the No campaign.
The “Yes on Proposition 10” campaign, on the other hand, is backed by humanitarian and progressive organizations, labor unions, and tenants’ rights organizations. These organizations represent the fight for a host of intersectional issues, including the immigrants’ rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and the struggle toward ending racial and gender discrimination. This is especially important to consider when thinking about possible solutions to the California Housing Crisis, as marginalized communities like these are the ones that are most vulnerable to hunger and homelessness.
One category of human rights organizations that seem especially pervasive in the support of Prop 10 is LGBTQIA+ rights organizations. The LGTBQIA+ community is especially vulnerable to housing discrimination and homelessness. This issue is especially pertinent for the youth of the community. While about 20% of U.S. teens identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, about 40% of homeless teens in the U.S. are LGBTQIA+. In Los Angeles alone, there are about 3,500 LGBTQIA+ youth living on the street. The disproportion of these statistics suggests that while homelessness is an issue in general, it is specifically catastrophic for the already vulnerable members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Therefore, it is especially telling that organizations such as the ACLU, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the Los Angeles LGBT Youth Center, and many other LGBTQIA+ rights organizations have voiced their support for Prop 10.
The marginalized immigrant community is yet another potential beneficiary of Prop 10. Since the 2008 recession, Los Angeles witnessed major increases in the number of homeless immigrants. According to Cynthia Sanchez, director of the nonprofit organization Proyecto Pastoral that runs the homeless shelter at Dolores Mission church, “Most of those who wind up on the street are single men… [who are] here on their own without families in the U.S., [and] who often send money back home to relatives.” The issue of gentrification and the resulting rise in housing costs is especially pertinent for undocumented immigrants, many of whom have difficulty finding lucrative work because they lack a social security number and often are forced to rely on unreliable freelance work. As housing costs in Los Angeles rise, undocumented immigrants are often some of the first left on the street. This is why immigrants rights organizations such as the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles, United Farm Workers, and Centro Legal de la Raza have voiced resounding support for Prop 10.
The previously mentioned communities are by no means the only ones that are affected by homelessness and gentrification in California. The federal Housing and Urban Development Department estimates that on any given night, there are approximately 130,000 unsheltered homeless individuals sleeping on California streets – about 25% of the national homeless population. Roughly 55,000 of these people are located in Los Angeles. Of the Los Angeles homeless population, about 31% are female; 13% are physically disabled; 27% have a mental illness; 39% percent are Black; and about 35% are Latinx. These statistics reveal homelessness, and therefore the California Housing Crisis, as an inextricably intersectional issue.
While the passing of Prop 10 obviously will not solve all of these issues overnight, it will aid in the fight against the gentrification that has hurt the state’s most marginalized communities in truly catastrophic ways. It is time that the government takes a measurable stand for the good of the people, and not just for the good of capitalist interests.