Pay to Play? Democratic Lawmakers Selling Out Renters

by Dean Preston of Tenants Together on March 30, 2010

A lot of attention in recent months has focused on the “pay to play” problem in Washington D.C., with political leaders holding health care reform hostage for months in no small part because of the campaign contributions they receive from the insurance industry. Less attention is paid to how similar dynamics unfold in Sacramento with our state elected officials. Is there any other explanation for why a lawmaker would choose this moment in history, with all the real problems our state faces, to prioritize legislation to gut rent control protections for mobile home residents?

More than a million Californians live in mobile home parks, disproportionately seniors of moderate income. Residents are simultaneously renters and owners – they own their mobile homes, but rent the land underneath from the park owner. Recognizing that these are some of the few affordable housing opportunities in California, many local jurisdictions have adopted rent control laws that apply to mobile home parks.

Mobilehome park rent control has been under attack from the mega-landlords that own the parks. Park owners have poured millions into attempts to gut local rent control laws. Voters have overwhelmingly rejected these efforts, such as in June 2008 when Proposition 98, a measure to eliminate rent control and other renter protections, was defeated by a huge margin.

Democratic Assemblymember Charles Calderon (not to be confused with his brother, Senator Ron Calderon) is not listening to the will of California voters. Instead, Assemblymember Calderon is leading the fight to strip mobile home parks of strong rent control protections. Calderon’s bill, AB 761, would result in higher rents for mobilehome spaces, while also reducing the equity that mobilehome owners have in their homes. The controversial bill changes the rules midstream on residents for the benefit of park owners. Having failed to secure passage of the bill last year, Assemblymember Calderon has brought it back in this legislative session.

Self-described as a leader whose “passion is a concern for the poor and … working-class constituents in East Los Angeles,” Calderon was recently selected by Speaker John Perez as the Majority Floor Leader of the Assembly. With AB 761, Calderon continues to advocate for a law that delivers nothing for his constituents, and benefits a handful of mobilehome park mega-landlords.

Calderon has received substantial donations from park owners. Click here to see a recent (December 2009) donation from the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association.

There are two possibilities here: either Assemblymember Calderon is championing this legislation to deliver for a campaign donor, or he actually believes that one of the most pressing issues facing California today is that mobilehome park owners don’t make enough money.

Of course, Assemblymember Calderon is not the only Democratic lawmaker to vote against mobilehome residents last year. To see how other Assemblymembers voted on Calderon’s bill, click here.

Assemblymember Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), recently selected Speaker Pro Tem, not only voted for Calderon’s bill last year, but championed her own bill, AB 481, to make it easier for park owners to strip mobilehome residents of rent control protections without due process. Ma does not have a single mobilehome park in her district, so it is curious that she has made attacking mobilehome rent control laws a priority legislative issue. Assemblymember Ma receives thousands in donations from the Western Manufactured Home Association PAC. Click here ($1900), here ($2000) and here ($3600) for details.

All Californians need to be concerned when legislators represent the interests of a few mega-landlords in opposition to the working people who are their constituents, especially when the mega-landlords are filling those legislators’ campaign coffers.

Dean Preston is the Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s Statewide Organization for Renters’ Rights. For more information about Tenants Together, go to www.tenantstogether.org.

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