Crisis close and wide: Costa-Hawkins repeal fails, Sac’s disabled renters under more threat

On the same week renters were dealt a statewide blow, city officials heard jarring testimony from the severely disabled

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the January 18, 2018, issue.

Housing advocates were dejected last Thursday when a bill to give cities and counties more power to enact rent control died by one vote in committee. Meanwhile, the Sacramento City Council heard that its own housing crisis is affecting the disabled on a level local nonprofits can’t keep up with.

Hundreds arrived January 11 at the state Capitol to testify about Assembly Bill 1506, which would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act. Housing advocates say Costa-Hawkins takes the teeth out of local rent control measures by limiting them to apartments built before 1995. Rental houses, duplexes and newer developments are also exempt.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, the author of AB 1506, attempted to move his bill forward through the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.

One person there to support him—and rent control—was Luanna Villanueva, a landlord from Davis. “It’s the right thing to do,” Villanueva told SN&R. “The rents are just outrageous. I make enough money to maintain the property I own, but I’m not trying to make a big profit, certainly not off the students.”

But several hundred landlords who showed up felt differently, arguing that repealing Costa-Hawkins would take away the financial incentive to build more affordable units, thus making the housing crisis worse.

Bloom addressed that concern in his testimony. “New units in sufficient quantities will take years to build,” he said. “The only people who are able to weather this economic crisis are the wealthy.”

Assembyman David Chiu, the committee chair, agreed, pointing out that one-third of California renters are now spending more than half their income on rent. “It’s simply unsustainable,” Chiu said.

Chiu was joined by Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Mark Stone in voting to advance the repeal. Republicans Steven Choi and Marc Steinorth voted against it. Democrats Ed Chau and Jim Wood abstained, and the repeal effort died for lack of one vote.

Two days later, the Sacramento City Council heard from Elizabeth Drake, a woman with severe cerebral palsy, who said she’s been searching for a year-and-a-half for an apartment that will accept her housing choice voucher.

Drake is currently sharing an apartment with two other disabled residents, but their combined Supplemental Security Incomes can’t make the rent. The only thing keeping them from homelessness is local nonprofit Strategies to Empower People, or STEP, covering the rent gap.

A STEP program manager told the council her organization has eight other clients with cerebral palsy facing the same eviction threat. She said the risks of homelessness are compounded by landlords refusing housing choice vouchers, formerly known as Section 8 vouchers, and their requirement that renters make three times their monthly rent, which is impossible for people on Supplemental Security Income.

After Drake, the council heard from Patti Uplinger, a longtime housing specialist for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“One agency has 15 people, who are low-income, and some having housing choice vouchers, who have to be relocated by March 1. These are people with developmental disabilities,” Uplinger stressed. “Sacramento has below a 1.5 [percent] vacancy rate for low-income housing. I want you to declare a state of emergency for housing in the city of Sacramento. … We need a rental subsidy to prevent these vulnerable people from landing on the streets with everyone else—the other four thousand.”