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Associated Press

Californians will vote on whether to let cities expand rent control as the state grapples with soaring housing costs and a dire need for more home construction.

Proposition 21 would allow cities to adopt rent control measures for properties more than 15 years old. People who own one or two single-family homes would be exempt from the measure.

The proposal comes after years of rising housing costs have pushed many young adults to move back in with their families to make ends meet. Supporters say the measure is a critical attempt to slow rent increases and prevent homelessness. But critics say it will dampen sorely-needed new construction.

“The housing shortage has accumulated, and it’s so extreme that desperate solutions are necessary. And rent control is a desperate solution,” said Dowell Myers, professor of policy, planning and demography at the University of Southern California.

Prop 21 is one of a dozen questions on the Nov. 3 ballot. Early voting starts Monday.

California voters overwhelmingly rejected a more expansive rent control measure two years ago known as Proposition 10. Last year, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a decade-long limit on rent increases to 5% a year plus inflation and barred landlords from evicting tenants without a reason.

Proposition 21 aims to reduce the impact of a more than two-decade-old state law that says new rent control policies don’t apply to properties built since 1995.

California is home to nearly 40 million people and for decades as its population expanded the state failed to build enough housing to meet demand. Meantime, U.S. Census data shows the median gross rent for a two-bedroom unit jumped 25% in the four years through 2019.

Catherine Mendonca, 36, said rent on her one-bedroom apartment rose from $700 to $1,100 since she moved in eight years ago. The videographer and organizer with San Diego Tenants Union said she hopes Prop 21 paves the way for more rent control in her city so she can stay where she lives.

She said it’s a “terrible circumstance” for landlords “to squeeze whatever they can out of renters” while employers aren’t providing workers with raises.

The proposition is supported by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the state Democratic Party. It is opposed by the California Apartment Association, California Republican Party and Newsom, who said the measure “runs the all-too-real risk of discouraging availability of affordable housing” and that the law he signed last year already caps rent.

Steven Maviglio, spokesperson for the No on 21 campaign, said the measure would dampen real estate development when housing construction is desperately needed.

“California can only overcome our housing crisis by building more affordable housing, and this is a direct disincentive to doing that,” he said.

Supporters of the measure raised about $24 million by late September, while opponents raised about $54 million, according to state campaign contribution data.

About one in five Californians already live in cities with rent control, according to the state legislative analyst’s office.

Gustavo Gonzalez, a real estate agent who owns two buildings in San Jose, said the policies can have unintended consequences. He said he feels compelled to raise rents each year because he knows he’s limited in doing so in the future if something breaks and needs fixing.

“The whole rent control stuff does the complete opposite of what it is intended to do,” Gonzalez said. “When you do these things, you take away the flexibility I need to manage my buildings and it forces us to do things the majority of us don’t want to do.”