City Needs Honest Housing Debate

City Needs Honest Housing Debate

 

Councilmember attempts to dispell misunderstanding of rent ordinance

As the City Council is poised next week to place the strong tenant protections we passed earlier this year on the ballot, I’d like to dispel a few myths about the Council’s ordinance.

The first myth: the City Council has done nothing to protect tenants. That’s simply not true. Last November, the Council enacted a moratorium on egregious rent increases and most evictions while we drafted a strong set of renter protections.

To protect against this, any rent increase more than 5 percent now goes to the Rent Review Advisory Committee and must be initiated by the landlord, eliminating the threat of retaliation following a tenant-initiated petition. Tenants’ rights advocates in Oakland also agree this is a strong protection, as it is a key component of Oakland’s tenants’ rights ordinance also on the November ballot. 

So what has the city done?

  • We’ve provided for a binding hearing procedure for any rent increase for non-exempt units should the landlord and tenant fail to agree during mediation. 
  • We limited rent increases to one time per year. 
  • We required one-year leases for a temporary period in order to calm the market. 
  • We limited the number of no-cause evictions to prevent the mass eviction of entire buildings. 
  • We disincentivized rent evictions by limiting rent increases for new tenants where the previous tenant was evicted without cause to 5 percent. 
  • We provided significant relocation payments for tenants evicted for no cause and certain other evictions.  
  • We approved a capital improvement plan process to eliminate pretextual evictions under the guise of “substantial improvements,” while still allowing landlords who legitimately improve their properties the means to do so.

The second myth: the City Council passed an ordinance in the middle of the night without public input. This is also simply not true. While in the moratorium period, the City Council held public hearings and heard from hundreds of speakers during multiple meetings, some of which did go late into the evening. The writing of our ordinance, however, was shaped by these meetings as well by countless hours of staff time and effort over the course of many weeks.

Despite this, and even before the Council’s ordinance even took effect, the Alameda Renters Coalition (ARC) filed an intent to circulate petitions to enact a stricter form of rent control than the City Council passed. Reasonable minds may disagree on implementing just-cause eviction and limiting rent increases to 65  percent of the Consumer Price Index, but other provisions of ARC’s proposal raise independent concerns.

First, is the cost: more than $4.3 million combined to conduct an election for the proposed rent board and pay for the first year of the proposed program’s administration. This money will come directly out of the General Fund. In a time of tight budgets at the city level, residents need to understand that the City Council will need to find the money for this new bureaucracy. 

Where will the money come from? 

  • Police and fire at a time when residents want more patrols to increase pedestrian safety and simultaneously maintain response times. 
  • Parks, at a time when we are close to bringing Jean Sweeney Park and Estuary Park on line. 
  • Libraries, at a time when we are just starting to restore the service cuts put in place during the last economic downturn. In fact, ARC’s proposed bureaucracy would cost nearly the same as the entire Recreation and Parks Department or library budget. 

There is also the lack of flexibility of a charter amendment to consider. The city’s ordinance, while far from perfect, can easily be amended should something not work, or economic circumstances change — not so with a charter amendment, which requires voter approval to change. In addition an elected rent board is not a panacea to the affordable housing crisis. There is no guarantee that the people elected will be tenants’ rights advocates.

While I welcome the debate over how best to deal with the housing affordability crisis, I hope that it’s an honest debate based on facts and data, and not on myths, anecdotes and intellectually dishonest 
arguments.

 

 

James Oddie is a member of the City Council. He can be reached at joddie@alamedaca.gov.