To Fend Off Excessive Rents and Homelessness, Seniors Need Rent Control
Seniors on fixed incomes are increasingly pushed into homelessness by excessive rents — a life-threatening situation that can be quickly addressed through rent control. There’s no time to wait: seniors make up the fastest-growing homeless population in California. Politicians must also build more low-income housing and pass other programs to protect seniors.
A recent CalMatters article pointed out that seniors — age 50 and older — are the fastest-growing unhoused population in California. In addition, many of those residents are living on the streets for the first time. Sky-high rents are one of the key reasons for the spike of homelessness among seniors.
CalMatters wrote: “A main contributor, experts say, is that as California rents soar, seniors’ income streams, including Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income, have not kept up.”
It’s hardly surprising. Studies by Zillow, the real estate site, found that when rents go up in major urban areas, homelessness increases.
But there is a solution: rent control. Studies published by the University of Southern California, UC Berkeley, and UCLA found that rent regulations will quickly stabilize the housing affordability crisis and prevent people from falling into homelessness.
Additionally, rent control reins in the greed and predatory business practices of corporate landlords — a protection that only rent regulations can provide.
Yet during the worsening housing affordability and homelessness crises, California still has statewide rent control restrictions, preventing local governments from updating and strengthening rent regulations. The housing justice movement attempted to end those restrictions through two ballot measures, in 2018 and 2020, but the real estate industry spent a total of $175.4 million to kill both initiatives through massive disinformation campaigns.
With no regulations holding back its predatory business practices, Big Real Estate kept charging higher and higher rents — no matter the consequences to seniors, working-class families, recent college graduates, and many others.
In fact, RealPage, a Texas-based Big Tech firm, helped a cartel of corporate landlords wildly inflate rents in California through a controversial software program called YieldStar. At the same time, three of RealPage’s clients — Essex Property Trust, Equity Residential, and AvalonBay Communities — gave millions in campaign contributions to stop the 2018 and 2020 pro-rent control ballot measures. RealPage also delivered $1 million to kill the initiatives.
To help seniors and other California tenants, Housing Is A Human Right advocates for a multi-pronged strategy to solve the housing affordability and homelessness crises. It’s called the “3 Ps”: protect tenants through rent control and other protections; preserve existing affordable housing, not demolish it to make way for luxury housing; and produce more affordable housing, including low-income and homeless units. Rent control is a crucial piece of the 3 Ps: it immediately protects tenants, preventing them from falling into homelessness.
California politicians must protect our grandparents, our elderly parents, and our great-aunts and great-uncles against predatory landlords. Statewide rent control restrictions must end — and then local elected leaders must pass effective rent regulations. Big Real Estate will never do the right thing for California’s seniors.
Patrick Range McDonald, the author of this article, is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.