Reporters David Hernandez and Phillip Molnar answered questions about their recent stories on a rent control proposition and measure on the November ballot. The results of the election could have big impacts on San Diego County’s housing market.
Why take a deeper look at these rent control measures?
These are big issues that affect a lot of people. We both have been writing about rent control for some time and it made sense to combine our efforts to explain the issues facing voters on Nov. 6 — the statewide Proposition 10 and Measure W in National City.
How did you choose which data and studies to use? Was that difficult?
We read studies that both campaigns said proved their point. We also read other prominent studies that have been highly cited over the years.
That said, it’s tough to come to one conclusion.
Most economic studies say rent control is a bad thing for the majority of renters because it decreases the amount of available housing. But, if you read the studies to the end, there are plenty of nuggets of information that could be used by both sides.
For instance, a recent Stanford University study that looked at rent control in San Francisco found it is a burden on new residents. But it also found that tenants in rent-controlled apartments saved $2,300 to $6,600 a year.
The study also placed much of the blame on the language in the ordinance for the negative impacts of rent control. Some landlords could circumvent rent control rules by tearing down old buildings to develop new homes or converting to condos.
What other challenges did you face?
Getting real people to talk about the issue.
One of our editors asked why so many veterans support the No on Prop 10 campaign.
We called or emailed nearly every veterans group that signed on to support the No campaign, but got no response. The Yes on Prop 10 campaign claimed the opponents were using a “rent-a-vet strategy,” but ultimately it was the Yes campaign who put us in touch with Chris Yates, a retired Marine Corps officer and commander of the American Legion’s District 22, which represents 28 posts in San Diego County.
Yates had already written an essay for the Union-Tribune about his views, but we still were grateful to finally talk to a veteran.
When it came time to interview tenants and landlords, we found that some were hesitant to become the face for or against rent control.
This is a hot-button issue. Did you find it difficult to find a balance in your stories between tenants and landlords?
While we knew National City renters would have personal stories to tell (Measure W is a citizens-driven initiative), we also set out to capture the direct concerns and fears of landlords.
We took the time to understand both sides, at times pressing them on their views, which made it easier to lay out their viewpoints in a balanced way when the time came to write the story.
It was a struggle, however, to find a balance visually. One landlord, for instance, didn’t want to be photographed. He wanted to speak out because he strongly opposes rent control but said he didn’t want to attract any more attention to himself than he needed to in regards to such a divisive topic.
Tenants and landlords are aware that all eyes are on National City because it could become the first city in the county to enact rent control. Only one other city — Santa Cruz — has a local rent control measure on the November ballot.