First Advisor

Sy Adler

Term of Graduation

Spring 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Rent control -- California -- Santa Monica, Place attachment, Housing policy -- California -- Santa Monica



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 307 pages)


The importance of safe and stable housing for individual and community wellbeing is widely acknowledged. However, for the one third of Americans who rent their homes, housing-related stress and precarity (residential alienation) may undermine stability and a sense of home. Rent control is perhaps the most well-known tenant protection policy in the United States, but it remains highly controversial and its efficacy has been debated for decades. This research is the first academic inquiry to examine the policy through the experience of residents of rent-controlled housing. In academic discourse dominated by quantitative inquiry from the discipline of economics, this study contributes a qualitative, micro-level perspective that is critically missing from our understanding of the policy.

Santa Monica, California is known nationally as an exemplar of strong rent control and a pro-tenant local government. Over forty years after the implementation of rent control it also has some of the highest market rents in the region. This case study draws on a number of theoretical constructs to explore the extent to which residents of rent-controlled housing in Santa Monica experience dwelling/at-homeness in their home environments, and the nexus between these experiences and tenant protections like rent control. I synthesize findings from 30 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with Santa Monica renters with archival media articles, interviews with tenant lawyers and City staff, City documents and multifamily housing industry materials. My findings confirm many of the positive policy outcomes that renters have described for decades, while simultaneously illustrating the detrimental effects of state-level legal loopholes on participants' ontological security. Along with several other policy recommendations, this study points to the urgent need to close these loopholes by repealing Costa Hawkins and the Ellis Act. On a larger scale, it articulates the irreconcilable tension between housing as home and as a commodity investment vehicle, pointing toward a need for a de-commodified housing system.


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