Dispersion and Adaptation:
The California Experience
W. Dennis Keating
Shortly after New York City abandoned rigid rent controls and enacted rent stabilization, new interest in rent regulation began to be expressed across the country. The California experience is representative of the range of public responses, and this chapter chronicles and interprets that experience. The chapter begins after the debate over the merits and demerits of rent control itself. 1 Attention is given to the current status of the program, particularly the administrative and legal aspects, and to its future prospects. A central theme emerges: Is California—or, implicitly, any state— justified in preempting the right of localities to enact rent controls? In that regard, several alternatives to rent control are considered, in terms of their comparative value in assuring affordable housing to renters.
According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) 1,435,000 lower-income California renters (37 percent of all renters) were paying more than one‐ fourth of their incomes for rent in 1981. 2 HCD noted that the "inability of increasing numbers of households to afford suitable housing" was the state's most widespread housing problem, with half of all California renters paying more than they can actually afford. 3 This conclusion contributes to the debate over what is an acceptable rent-to-income ratio. While California still adhered to the 25 percent rent-to-income ratio as the standard of affordability