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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Proposition 10

For Rend Sign (AP: David Zalubowski)

For Rend Sign (AP: David Zalubowski)

Beau Scott

Beau Scott is a Santa Clara University senior and a Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.  Views are his own.

Far removed from the heated debates surrounding issues such as immigration or the economy, housing policy is often thought of as mundane or unglamorous. Yet, it is arguably the most important policy area in the United States. How do we house migrant laborers who literally feed us? What happens to the global economy if the housing market suffers another collapse? These questions and those like them permeate every single policy arena within United States governance, underscoring Maslow’s concept of biological need and prompting an obligation to promote good policy.

My interest in housing policy stems from my unquenchable thirst to safeguard the biological needs and rights of all people to suitable shelter. As someone who has struggled with homelessness and housing insecurity, I have a personal interest in California’s Proposition 10. Does this change in rent control laws ethically address the state’s housing crisis?

First, what is  Proposition 10? Simply stated, Prop 10 is a legislative repeal of the Costa-Hawkins act of 1995. It reinstates local governments’ authority to impose rent control policies on certain types of properties. That is, Prop 10 essentially allows localities to place a price ceiling on monthly rents. It is also directly connected to the housing shortage within California, alluding to a battle between two ideological camps on what may provide the best solution long-term and asking the fundamental question of whether rent control is such a solution.

As one could likely tell, this battle is contentious. One side claims that rent control “makes a bad problem worse.” By allowing local governments to regulate rents, it disincentivizes landlords and builders to construct new rental properties. Since California is already struggling to provide an adequate number of available and affordable housing units, this could be dire. Yet, the other side argues that Proposition 10 offers much needed relief from a cost of living that has spiraled out of control, asking whether it is the responsibility of the tenant to bear the cost until new units are built.

Both sides brandish strong arguments. This is why an examination through the lens of ethics is useful for digesting the intricacies of Proposition 10. The Framework for Ethical Decision Making developed by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics allows an examination of the proposition from various perspectives. It is also worth looking at Ballotpedia for a more clear-cut synopsis on what a yes and no vote signify for the state of California before heading to the polls on November 6.

From a Utilitarian Perspective:
Proposition 10 offers a full repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Act of 1995, rolling back decades of restrictions on municipal governments’ ability to impose rent control policies upon certain categories of housing units. On one hand, as proponents of the measure would contend, we are faced with the question of whether Proposition 10 can actually affect its purpose and stabilize the cost of living for California residents. One the other hand, we must undoubtedly ask whether a widespread “greater good” will result from implementing Prop 10. Something else to consider: are more people better served without a repeal of Costa-Hawkins?

From a Rights Perspective:
CNBC’s annual “America’s Top States for Business” study shows that the cost of living in California is among one of the highest in the world, underscoring the issue which proponents of the initiative say Prop 10 aims to help alleviate. Yet, are people guaranteed a legal right to affordable housing? Perhaps a moral right? If so, does a landlord’s right to control her property preempt or outweigh a tenant’s right to affordable housing? Does government have a right to regulate private property in this way? In seeking answers to these broad questions, one may also wonder whether Proposition 10 infringes on any legal rights.

From a Fairness and Equity Perspective:
Fairness, equality, and equity have been understood by the Supreme Court as enumerated rights expressed within the language of the Fourteenth Amendment, but is it fair for government to impose restrictions on private property? Is it equitable? Does the context within which we judge fairness change because Prop 10 is a publicly approved ballot initiative? In analyzing the concept of housing as a biological necessity, is it more ethical to be fair or equitable?

From a Common Good Perspective:
Analyzing the concept of affordable housing within the lens of the common good immediately inspires thought about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In his famous chart diagram, Maslow places biological needs like housing at the base of the hierarchy, highlighting their significance for human well-being. How can this diagram be related to the common good? While rent control may help secure Maslow’s base need for affordable housing, does providing monetary relief for tenants really promote an end which may be viewed as a common good?

From a Virtue Perspective:
Both sides of Proposition 10 have employed fiery ad campaigns in an attempt to herd likely voters into their respective camps. Yet, as with any contentious issue, time must be taken to thoroughly examine and scrutinize campaign tactics to ensure an informed decision at the polls. You may ask whether the tactics being employed are accurate, precise, and truthful in conveying information. Do these respective campaigns offer a fair and accurate account of the opposing side? Finally, you may question whether virtues like honesty or compassion are valued by either side.



Oct 23, 2018

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