When Tim Anaya first told me about a California senate bill that would give renters who lost their jobs during the coronavirus shutdown until 2034 to pay back their rent, I thought I didn’t hear him right: “Did you say 2024?” (I thought four years was plenty.)
But yes, dear readers, he said 2034. It’s no typo either.
SB 1410 would force landlords to enter into a “rent stabilization agreement” with the tenant, and prohibits the landlord from evicting the tenant unless the tenant declined to make an agreement. The tenant would then have until 2034 to make payments, in increments if needed. And if that weren’t enough, tenants could also be eligible for loan forgiveness, leaving California taxpayers holding the bag. In this instance, landlords would receive 10 years of tax credits equal to the amount of unpaid rent. The bill is retroactive, back dated for unpaid rent from March 4.
The legislature hasn’t provided any details on the cost, but the Orange County Register reported that in a previous version of the plan, a Senate Appropriations Committee analysis showed that the cost would be “likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars.” For a state facing a $54 billion deficit, this is no time to throw money at what the Register calls a “solution in search of a problem.” Nationwide, nearly 9 in 10 apartment renters, or 88 percent, paid at least some May rent, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. This was only a 2 percentage point decrease from the prior year.
In fact, across the state, renters have already been given eviction protections, and local governments have also stepped in. Los Angeles has approved a $100 million renters relief program to help those struggling. Even San Francisco enacted a more sensible policy that allows renters until the end of the year to pay their rent without late fees.
Notwithstanding, a combination of market forces, COVID-19, and a government-created housing affordability crisis, may already be at play. One in 13 San Francisco renters have broken their lease since the coronavirus stay-at-home orders went into place reported the San Francisco Chronicle, “an astonishing out-migration of tenants in the city that could lead to thousands of empty rental units giving renters the upper hand in negotiations.”
As absurd as it is, I’m going to put this bill under the category of “good intentions” — Mr. and Mrs. Landlord, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Senator Lena Gonzales, no doubt with sincerity, said: “With the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, we will help renters maintain financial stability, both now and after the crisis . . . .At the same time, the program will allow mom-and-pop landlords to keep up with their own bills, including mortgages, so that they can continue to provide housing to California’s working families.” I would add – best of luck keeping track of them for the next decade.
We’ve argued time and again in Right by the Bay that the most effective way to make housing affordable is to reform the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to encourage more building and eliminate rent control. SB 1410 would make it even less attractive for property owners to stay in the onerous business of being a landlord. Tim summed it up best, “You think you own property, but you really don’t.”
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.