Council takes steps on rents issues
Council takes steps on rents issues
Correction: The Alamedan misstated Mayor Trish Spencer's position on rent increases. Spencer said she supported reviewing a rent increase threshold for cases submitted to the Rent Review Advisory Committee, not a ceiling on rent increases. The Alamedan regrets the error.
City Council members opted early Wednesday to move forward with a set of recommendations for strengthening the city committee that mediates rent disputes – and, over the objections of Mayor Trish Spencer, to consider gathering data on the rent market here and in other cities to inform discussion about additional steps the city could take to protect renters.
The council voted unanimously to work toward implementing recommendations to do more to notify tenants about the existence of the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee and to compel their participation in committee hearings to resolve rent disputes, to expedite hearings if needed and to enforce state law prohibiting retaliation against tenants who exercise their rights.
The council also agreed to consider whether to create a minimum threshold a rent increase must meet for a mediation session to be set, a point the community group didn’t agree to recommend.
The group did not recommend, and the council did not consider on Tuesday, putting rent controls in place.
Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese said they wanted staff to look into what it would take to gather additional data about the scope and impact of rising rents here and the impact of rent controls in local cities that have put them in place. Councilman Jim Oddie cast the deciding vote to move forward with that effort.
Spencer, a renter here for 15 years, said she wanted to take action on the community discussion group’s recommendations and move on. On the campaign trail, she said she thought the rent committee was doing a good job addressing rents issues.
"I'll be curious what this costs, but it's going to be very time consuming," Spencer said of the possible data collection effort.
Daysog, who presented some U.S. Census data showing that the amount of renters’ income devoted to their housing costs is rising, abstained from the vote.
Back in September, the City Council voted 3-2 to set aside city staff’s recommendation to set up a city-sponsored task force that would generate data on local rents and the impacts of rising rents in favor of a community-driven process run by a local attorney and mediator. The group held three public forums and a series of behind-the-scene meetings involving a select group of stakeholders.
Council members praised the group’s leader, Jeff Cambra, for bringing renters and landlords together to discuss the issue of rising rents and the challenges of owning and maintaining rental properties. But some noted that the group had been charged with gathering the data the task force was supposed to collect and that this work hadn’t been done.
Renters and landlords said that while they were skeptical about the potential efficacy of the community process they ultimately came to support its work, and they asked the council to move forward with the recommendations, which they characterized as “discussion points.”
Gallagher & Lindsey’s Don Lindsey and Angela Hockabout, founder of the Alameda Renters Coalition, said they’d like to continue to work together to address rents issues.
Still, landlords urged the council to refrain from imposing rent controls, saying they think a strengthened Rent Review Advisory Committee should be sufficient to handle what they characterized as a small number of “exorbitant” rent increases.
"We care about Alameda. We like owning property in Alameda, We believe in the idea of fairness," said Lindsey, who owns and manages hundreds of units on the Island.
Lindsey and other landlords said they don’t support such big increases, and that local landlords typically intervene when they hear of such cases to try to get those seeking such increases to reconsider them.
“I think peer pressure is the best way to handle this,” said Bruce Karnes, a landlord who said he owns two Victorians on the Island.
But some renters who told their stories about rent increases and lost housing said they thought the council should do more than just strengthen the rent review committee.
"Council has a bigger responsibility than just dealing with this on a case by case basis," said Brian McGuire, who said the city should make changes to the municipal code to address rising rents.
Rasheed Shabazz said he supported the community process but that he would like to see the city go further by gathering the data council members said they intended to collect. Shabazz said he was among the hundreds of people evicted from Harbor Island Apartments in 2004; being in the same place for nine years has provided him with the stability to achieve other things that included attending the University at California, Berkeley.
"One of the takeaways of that is that this displacement is constant, especially against African Americans,” he said.
City Manager John Russo said he could prepare a plan to move forward on the discussion points in 90 days.