For the second election cycle in a row California voters shot down a pro-rent control proposition, but local board members believe the future of rent control in Santa Monica is bright.
Anastasia Foster and Caroline Torosis were elected for a second term on the rent control board and are dedicated to ensuring regulations stay in place and working with City Council to maximize the number of rental units available to permanent residents.
Torosis doesn’t see the recent failure of Prop 21, which would have given local authorities the option to expand rent control provisions, as a sign Californians do not support rent control.
“The fact that we were even able to get a rent control ballot initiative on the ballot and get over 40 percent of the vote when five years ago that never would have happened speaks volumes to the fact that people are seeing statewide that this is part, not all, but one part of the solution to preserving housing, protecting existing housing, and making sure that we are stemming the inflow into homelessness,” said Torosis.
Torosis also points to the 2019 passage of rent stabilization bill AB1482 as evidence rent protection policy is gaining more ground in Sacramento.
Support for Prop 21, mostly came from urban centers like LA and San Francisco where rental prices are nearly always rising. Torosis and Foster believe that while rent control is not a necessary policy for most housing markets, it is essential to ensure residential stability in Santa Monica where 70 percent of residents are renters.
“If we didn’t have a hot market we wouldn’t need as stringent of protections. But money is unapologetic, capital seeks to increase itself, and what we are saying is that there are human lives and families at the other end of that capital,” said Foster. “Owning a multifamily building is not like owning a strip mall, you don’t just have tenants who pay rent, these are human lives.”
At a local level, voters overwhelmingly supported pro-rent control candidates Torosis and Foster compared to anti-rent control candidate Robert Kronovet who only received 14 percent of the vote. Santa Monicans also voted 57 percent in favor of Prop 21, which was endorsed by City Council.
In their upcoming term Torosis and Foster are dedicated to ensuring that as many rent controlled and market rate rental units are available to residents as possible.
There are currently three forces lowering the availability of units in Santa Monica, according to Foster. The first is landlords seeking to push out rent control tenants to raise unit prices. Other landlords seek to push out residents so they can sell their building with empty units for a greater price. Finally, some landlords prefer short-term vacation rentals where they can get higher rates.
Torosis and Foster said that the majority of landlords are good actors but that there are some bad apples whose actions require the intervention of the Rent Control Board.
They believe that rent control is essential to maintaining the character and stability of the Santa Monica community, and say its protections are not going anywhere anytime soon.
“If you disrupt the lives of 70 percent of your population with the rug being pulled out from them at any moment with an exorbitant rent hike, you have an immediately destabilized community,” said Foster. “You cannot maintain public schools and you cannot maintain a tax base if you have a transient population as your majority.”
Rent Control helps provide a financial predictability that allows community members to settle in one location for the long-term. Foster and Torosis say that the unexpected financial damage of the pandemic is a further example of how rent control is an important means to keep community members housed.