The Role of State and Federal Governments in Today's Rental, Displacement, and Affordable Housing Crises
Part III of a series published in the Oakland Post by OTU co-founder, James Vann.
Oakland's long standing rental and affordable housing crises continue to be locally neglected. And to the shame of local policymakers, the accessible actions detailed in the two preceding installments remain unmentioned.
On its own, the market does not produce either renter protections, affordable housing, nor stem displacement; only governments perform these functions. On its own, the market will not provide housing to meet the growing needs of lower income households which, over time, are the overwhelming share of residents. Competition for scarce available units drives up prices and, in addition, creates greater homelessness, overcrowding, displacement, and other problems associated with not having sufficient rentals and construction of new affordable housing. Oakland badly misinterprets its purpose in repeat announcements that it is the City's responsibility to assure a steady supply of market housing. Without any help from the City, the market will provide expensive market housing. Alternately, unless the City steps forward, there is no one to provide critically needed affordable homes or rental housing.
Federal and State governments are not innocent...
Despite the fact that the federal government is the only producer of public housing -- meant to serve those of lowest income -- the Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in the early 90s, abandoned its role as "houser of last resort." Shortly after the 1992 election, Bill Clinton pledged "to end the federal government's role as the nation's largest landlord." Consequently, from 1995 to 2007, the number of HUD's housing programs were sharply reduced, and through ill-devised initiatives, including Hope VI, RAD, and privatizing, about 250,000 public housing units were demolished, sold, or otherwise removed from local housing authority inventories. Since the retirement of Congress members Peter Rodino (NJ) and Barney Frank (MA), there has been no consistent member of Congress advocating for the housing needs of renters, artists, low income households, or the homeless.
Similarly, actions and non-actions at the State level have not only aggravated local housing issues, but mostly have made the crisis worse. Three particularly egregious state programs cripple local efforts to address housing problems: the Ellis Act of 1985; the Costa-Hawkins Housing Act of 1995; and the "Palmer vs City of Los Angeles Decision" of 2009. The "Ellis Act" permits wholesale "no-cause" eviction of tenants when an owner decides that it no longer desires to operate rental housing -- often a ploy to evict current tenants to make way for more expensive rents. Costa-Hawkins -- an accomplishment led by Gregory McConnell and acknowledged with great pride on his website -- eliminates "rent control' by deregulating controlled units following each vacancy. More recently, the Palmer Decision eliminated the ability of cities to impose "inclusionary housing" requirements which formerly provided specified percentages of affordable units within a market development of rental housing.
The Costa-Hawkins Act has an ominous local impetus. For years, State Senator David Roberti (LA), Judiciary Committee Chair, blocked the heinous “Costa-Hawkins" bill in committee. Unfortunately, in 1994, Senator Roberti was termed out, and Berkeley's beloved and presumed liberal Senator Nicholas Petris was appointed the seceding chair. As one of his first acts, Senator Petris, a Berkeley resident and rental property owner, betrayed his local constituents and released the Costa-Hawkins bill to the Republican-controlled legislature. The bill was passed overwhelmingly by the Republican house, and has since been a plague on renters and rent control programs all over the state.
There may be little local residents can do to change federal housing policies, however, this is not at all true for the State. There are several urgently needed programs and actions that can be implemented at the state level which will significantly relieve the crisis being endured by tenants, artists, homeless, and low income households. Despite having both a Democratic governor and solid majority legislature, there are no currently indications that needed improvements will occur. Consistent mass organizing and pressure is urgently needed.
Actions that are needed and can be easily implemented by the governor and legislature, and that would significantly assist, benefit, and enable improved policies and programs to reduce extravagant rent increases, cruel evictions, disruptive displacement, and effectively provide accommodations for renters, artists, low income households, and the homeless include:
James Vann is co-founder of the Oakland Tenant Union. This, and the prior two installments have discussed today’s rental and affordable housing crises, together with critical local and state actions that are urgently needed to improve the ability of cities to protect tenants from runaway rents, evictions, and displacement.
See Parts I and II of the series published in the Oakland Post here:
Part I: 20 Steps City Council Can Take to Stop Displacement in Oakland Now
Part II: Oakland’s Decades of Failure to Halt Evictions and Tenant Displacement