Because They Work: Rent Control & Tenant Protections

By Leslie Gordon, Researcher at Urban Habitat and Master of Arts in Urban Affairs Candidate at the University of San Francisco

As the tenant-led rent control movement gains momentum in California, Urban Habitat is excited to release its new report, Strengthening Communities through Rent Control and Just-Cause Evictions. The report’s findings affirm that Bay Area cities must enact strong tenant protections to stem the displacement crisis and protect the fabric of low-income communities and communities of color.

Urban Habitat is an Oakland, CA-based regional policy advocacy organization working to advance equitable policies to create a just and connected Bay Area for low-income communities and communities of color. Its ongoing research on regional resegregation in the Bay Area, understood as the growth of poverty and racial segregation in the urban fringe, has already highlighted the tremendous hardships that low-income communities face when displaced by devastating rent spikes, poor housing conditions, and no-fault evictions. The report finds that rent control and just-cause eviction policies protect marginalized communities, such as the elderly, low-income residents, people of color, and people with disabilities, providing them with stable housing in the midst of a devastating housing crisis.

As of January 2018, nineteen California cities have established binding rent control and/or just-cause evictions policies, and this growing movement may well have national implications. Strengthening Communities Through Rent Control and Just-Cause Evictions examines common arguments against the complementary policies, and highlights the resources involved in building accountable rent boards. As Equal Voices Action noted in its recent article: “The report can serve as a useful resource for exploring, advancing, and defending rent control and just-cause protections in communities throughout the U.S., as families throughout our network and nation face increasing displacement in today’s sharply uneven economy.”

Urban Habitat studied rent boards and policy outcomes in Berkeley and Santa Monica-the two most robust programs in the state-and in Richmond to detail the work and resources involved in building a new program. It also offers policy and operational recommendations to cities looking to improve or build programs. Key findings of the report include:

  • Rent control provides landlords a fair return on profits.
  • Rent control has little to no effect on the construction of new housing.
  • Rent control programs are cost-neutral to cities.
  • Rent control protects local social and economic diversity, while laws such as the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins skew the overall rental market in favor of more affluent renters.

“Our campaign for rent control and just cause for eviction in Fremont, CA has often been derailed by landlords, city staff, and city officials making sweeping arguments that rent control and just cause do not work and are damaging to communities. We represent the interests of the most vulnerable residents in our community, and we’ve known that these policies would improve their lives. This report is supported by years of work on the ground with real tenants and residents.” Roberta Ryan, RISE Coalition

Rent control and just-cause evictions are necessary policies, but they aren’t the end of the story. These policies are one prong of a multi-strategy approach to protect vulnerable renters, preserve existing housing, and produce affordable housing. Taken together, these strategies help stabilize neighborhoods, create just economies, and increase democratic participation. In this current era of slashed federal and state budgets to support the construction of new, affordable housing, these policies only become more critical.


The report is available here. Northern and Southern California maps can be found here.