Many local activists are looking to two Orange County state senators for leadership in a key upcoming vote on a proposal to expand an existing 2019 statewide rent control law – further capping rents at 5% increases to combat the state’s unaffordable housing crisis.

At the same time, apartment owner advocates are looking at these legislators with a very different outcome in mind. 

But state Senators Tom Umberg and Dave Min aren’t talking.

The local focus on Umberg and Min comes as calls for rent control have swept through the county, with community groups and activists pushing to maintain a momentum that started with a local rent cap approved in Santa Ana two years ago, while local city councils and residents grapple with inflation, rising rents and stagnating wages.

Groups like Orange County’s apartment association, which is currently suing Santa Ana over the city’s rent control law, are already seeing problems with the new proposed legislation. 

[Read: Calls for Rent Control Increase in Orange County as Housing Crisis Worsens]

Dubbed the Homelessness Prevention Act, Senate Bill 567 is slated for a state Senate Judiciary Committee vote on April 25, where Senators Dave Min and Tom Umberg sit. 

The bill’s author, state Sen. María Elena Durazo of Los Angeles, also sits on that 11- member committee. Click here to see all the committee members.

Activists so far count three committed “Yes” votes on the bill and they’re hoping for “three more votes to pass,” said Boomer Vicente, a community organizer and Policy Director for the Santa Ana-based group called Chispa.  

“The bill was just amended to remove single family homes and mobile home parks. We hope the amendment will move some of the Senators to vote yes.”

Apartment owner advocates also see the bill moving through the committee. 

“I’m going to imagine this bill will sail through the judiciary, because the author is on judiciary,” said Chip Ahlswede, spokesperson for the Apartment Association of Orange County.

Umberg, who chairs the panel, declined to comment on this story through a spokesperson.

Through an emailed statement from his office, Min said he’s not yet taken a position on the bill. 

If the bill doesn’t make it out of the committee, then that’s it.

“A vote in the committee would allow that bill to move forward either to the next committee or the senate floor,” said a spokesperson for Min’s office, Kelly Jones, when reached over the phone.

Vanessa Carter Fahnestock, a social researcher at USC, said rent control policies have limited disadvantages.

A landlord herself, Carter Fahnestock said “there’s a lot of noise about the negative impacts of rent caps – overall they have very few downsides.” 

“There can be some small drawbacks that can mostly be handled with policy fixes,” she said in an interview, citing her research findings. 

She said rent caps also keep people in apartments, which creates a stable living environment for the renter and a reliable income for the landlord. 

“It’s really good to have tenants stay around. I know personally as a landlord, I don’t raise my rents very high, I want my tenants to stay,” Carter Fahnestock said in a Wednesday interview. “It’s good for the tenant, it’s also good for the landlord who has a stable renting base as well.” 

Yet the committee’s April 25 vote comes just days after its members approved a seemingly opposing bill – one which would expand landlord protections against rent control ordinances under the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limited the applicability of local rent control ordinances to properties issued occupancy certificates before 1995. 

That senate bill, known currently as SB 466, was approved by the state senate judiciary committee on April 18. 

A local landlord interest group wonders what would happen if both bills were to pass.

“So we now have a situation where we’re saying, ‘Let the cities come up with our own rules that they want.’ But the state is going to set even more restrictive (rent increase) limits in contrast with that, so they kind of stand at odds with one another,” Ahlswede said in a Thursday phone interview.

Ahlswede’s concern is that if passed, SB 567 would “fly in the face” of what he called the “bipartisan effort” behind the statewide rent cap approved in 2019. 

“It stands in complete contrast to the concept that they’ve all been running around saying, that they want more affordable housing,” Ahlswede said. “Well, if you’re going to further take away the ability of a developer to recoup their costs, how are you expecting anybody to want to build here.”

As the bill makes its way through the state legislative process, Buena Park City Council members are considering a citywide rent cap on apartments older than 15 years – with one councilman proposing capping rents at a 3% increase per year. 

[Read: Rent Control Could Come to Buena Park]

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a landmark statewide rent cap known as The California Tenant Protection Act, which currently caps rent increases at 10% across the state.

Under Sen. Durazo’s new proposal – dubbed the Homelessness Prevention Act – the rent increase cap would lower to 5%.

The bill would also require landlords to offer displaced tenants the opportunity to return to their unit with the same rental agreement and rate after any renovations and repairs, according to the text of Durazo’s bill. 

Penelope Lopez, organizing director for Chispa, said the Santa Ana-based activist group is going to bus it to Sacramento to push legislators to pass the stricter rent caps. 

Increasing rents, Lopez said, is one of the chief reasons Chispa is organizing young people in Anaheim – holding an April 14 youth town hall that saw roughly 60 people show up at a local church by City Hall. 

“There’s been a disconnection in Anaheim,” Lopes said in an interview at the town hall. “We’re trying to get young people engaged, especially on rent control.” 

Despite repeated calls from residents, Anaheim City Council members have not considered a rent control ordinance. 

Critics of rent control say the policies can shrink housing stock and increase rents.

But Carter Fahnestock, the USC researcher, said rent control doesn’t reduce housing stock or drive up rents – and property owners can still get fair returns on their investments.

“The research very clearly shows that rent caps help create stability for renters and that without them, there are educational, physiological and psychological impacts on renters – including children of families who are evicted. If they have to move a lot, their educational outcomes are just lower.” 

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