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Homeward Bound

A New Series Examines California’s Housing Meltdown

The first of the month has come to strike terror in renters, while homeownership seems like a fantasy to the young. How did this happen?

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Death and taxes may be the great inevitables, but for more than one third of America rent day has become a third rendezvous with dread. In California, skyrocketing rents have forced many tenants to spend more than half of their household income to keep a roof over their heads and the utilities on. But the first of the month didn’t always force dire economic choices on renters; nor has it always been an ether dream for working people to be able to live in the communities they grew up in. And, not all that long ago, those same people who keep our country running could reasonably expect to purchase their own homes one day.

But over the last few decades the realities of renting and homeownership have changed dramatically. Today it takes more than a $100,000 annual salary for San Franciscans to rent a one-bedroom apartment, while only 23 affordable rental units are available to every 100 extremely low-income Californians.

How did we get to this point? What are the powerful interests that keep housing costs prohibitively high for many Californians, and how do they do it? This week Capital & Main launches Homeward Bound, a new series written by award-winning reporter Robin Urevich that examines the causes of the state’s housing crisis, as well as possible solutions to it. We lead off with the first of several stories on the uneven history of rent control, and the role of the real estate industry, which spent $76 million in 2018 to defeat a single pro-rent control ballot initiative — and exercises enormous influence in Democratic-controlled Sacramento. Urevich talks to landlords and developers about their views of the crisis, while exploring how these two groups’ greatest weapons, the Costa-Hawkins law and the Ellis Act, have neutralized local efforts to impose effective rent controls.


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