Two weeks ago, for the second time in as many years, California voted on whether or not to allow localities to expand rent control. And for the second time, it went down to a crushing defeat. The measure lost by roughly 20% both times it went to a vote, failing in even typically Democratic strongholds. While those on the left have long championed rent control as a way to reduce housing costs, its performance in the progressive bastion of San Francisco is emblematic of its unpopularity.
In San Francisco, expanded rent control only won the approval of a bare majority of voters. No progressive ballot measure in California can pass without strong support in the City by the Bay.
While the measure registered its expected margins in the city’s progressive neighborhoods, it built a slightly different coalition than most ballot measures. It did fairly well in The Richmond District, which is typically one of the city’s more conservative areas. Within the district, there was a clear divide, with apartment-heavy areas voting for rent control and house-heavy areas voting against it. The Sunset and Pacific Heights were as conservative as ever on the issue, however. Precincts in these neighborhoods opposed expanding rent control by huge margins.
The Tenderloin, the historically one of the city’s poorest areas, gave the measure bigger margins than anywhere else. While typically not the most progressive area in the city, it was enthusiastic about expanding rent control.
The last area of note is the region around Lake Merced. Typically more moderate, it supported rent control strongly. One reason this might be the case is the nature of the housing in the area. Most residents live in fairly new apartment developments that are rented, not owned.
If rent control has any hope of passing in the future, it needs to go back to basics. Proponents need to first convince progressives in deep blue areas of its merits and go from there. Because right now, it can barely even pass in areas that should form the base of support.