Lead Story West Edition

Black leaders at odds over ballot measure

By Jacqueline Fernandez

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — A statewide ballot measure that would make it easier for cities to impose rent control has launched a war of words between the state head of the NAACP and a local activist who are on opposite sides of the issue.

Alice Huffman, the president of the California NAACP, is the lead consultant on an $800,000 voter outreach campaign against Proposition 10 on the November ballot. It targets African American voters through mailers and canvassing.

Huffman’s consulting firm — AC Public Affairs — is being paid $25,000 a month to work on the campaign.

Proposition 10 would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995 – a state law which places significant limits on the ability of cities to impose rent control. The measure would also allow price caps on units when a tenant moves out.

Damien Goodmon, the executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, is the campaign director for the Yes on 10 campaign and he is angry that as the head of the state NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, Huffman is fighting a measure most black organizations are supporting.

Damien Goodmon

In May, the state NAACP’s executive committee voted to oppose Proposition 10. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Huffman said the group agreed that allowing stricter forms of rent control would actually hurt low-income tenants by discouraging housing construction.

“The yes people have a more difficult job of persuading African-American voters to vote for a proposition that does nothing for our community,” Huffman said.

She claims the measure will remove any state oversight or common roles from city to city.

“We support current rent control in the 17 cities that have it,” Huffman said. “We don’t support 10 because it opens a flood gate of unintended consequences for African Americans. We have seen the ‘bait and switch’ tactics in other ballot measures,” she added.

Goodmon has questioned how the state NAACP decided to oppose Proposition 10 and what kind of presentation in favor of the measure was heard by the state board.

He said that Huffman never reached out to him or other black supporters of Yes on 10 to make a presentation at the May meeting or at any other time and that he reached out to Huffman before May to ask for time to discuss the measure.

“One must legitimately question the process Ms. Huffman did or did not engage in,” Goodmon said.

Huffman says she has not found Goodmon’s NAACP membership and said the organization is not obligated to have a debate on every initiative.

“If he is not a member, I recommend he join the NAACP so his voice will be counted in our deliberations,” Huffman said. “We will like to know of his African-American groups supporting 10 and how many had actual membership to discuss it.”

There are hundreds of organizations endorsing Proposition 10, including black civil rights groups like the Urban League, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and National Action Network.

“Alice Huffman may be well-intentioned in believing the real estate industry’s constant refrain that Prop. 10 will make housing and rentals even more costly for low-income persons in the state because it will dry up housing construction since developers will be squeezed for profit and will flee the new construction market,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable.

“But she’s dead wrong. Numerous independent studies have debunked this industry scare propaganda.”

Hutchinson pointed out that there is insufficient evidence that developers have stopped construction projects even in rent-controlled cities.

Nevertheless, a 2016 report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, found that expanding rent control would possibly discourage new construction by limiting the profitability of new rental housing.

The report also predicts that rent control would encourage landlords to discriminate when selecting tenants.

However, the California Housing Partnership Corporation found that Los Angeles County is short on housing for its poorest residents. It needs around 500,000 units to meet the demand.

That information intertwines with another report released in 2017 by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which found renters paying more than 30 percent of their income toward rent is greater for households who identify as black or African American, Latino or Hispanic, compared to renter households that identify as white.

This year, the Los Angeles Homeless Count found that black people remain overrepresented among the homeless, representing 35 percent of the county’s homeless population.

“At what point do we put the needs of the black community in ahead of Ms. Huffman’s need to stay at the Four Seasons? Goodmon asked.

He has already heard a lot of angry responses from the community.

“How are you going to convince an Oakland renter that this is bad? She’s using the same old talking points and its despicable,” Goodmon said.

But Huffman alleges the initiative does away with the only protections African Americans have for single-family home investments.

She believes the primary road to wealth creation is buying one home, then another until blacks are in a higher income bracket.

“If you rent control single-family homes, you have in theory reduced our wealth potential,” Huffman said. “We don’t oppose rent control for those who have it, but look at what is happening to our community as we are pushed further back into outlying areas.”

This is not the first time Huffman has been accused of taking money to harm the black community. In 2006, her firm was paid $200,000 by a campaign funded by Philip Morris.

The state’s NAACP joined forces with the tobacco company to oppose a $2.60-per-pack cigarette tax. It was eventually defeated. Ten years later, they changed their position and supported a ballot measure to increase cigarette taxes by $2.

“The NAACP and other black leaders need to make a decision on having such an unprincipled leader at its top,” Goodmon said.

“She continues to misuse the NAACP name.”

Huffman stands her ground and told the San Francisco Chronicle she doesn’t accept a contract as a political consultant until the state NAACP takes a position.

She has her own opinions of Goodmon.

“Mr. Goodman does not representative all African Americans in California.  He is a paid gun for Yes on 10, which I respect,” she said. “I hope the Yes campaign puts resources back into the community and not just income in his pocket. I get tired of wealthy campaigns using us without regard to investing in the community.”

However, Prop. 10 supporters don’t believe Huffman’s campaign will persuade many people.

“She won’t convince anyone who doesn’t already believe the industry line about the ‘housing squeeze’ if Prop. 10 passes,” Hutchinson said.

“The array of civil rights, housing, religious and community groups that back Prop. 10 assure that the majority of black, Hispanic and lower income voters in South L.A. and elsewhere will back the measure.”