Council will consider task force on rents
Council will consider task force on rents
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Alameda’s Planning Board stopped short of recommending the city enact rent controls Monday, opting instead to ask the City Council to consider setting up a task force to study whether people are being displaced by rising rents.
The board voted 4-3 to recommend a new housing blueprint to the City Council that includes the creation of the task force. The state-mandated blueprint – the housing element of the city’s general plan – must demonstrate the city’s efforts to meet its anticipated future housing needs.
Board member John Knox White, who proposed forming the committee, said it could examine the causes and impacts of rent increases, what existing city policies are doing to address any impacts and what else the city could or should be doing. Alameda has a rent board that mediates disputes, but its recommendations are not binding on landlords or renters.
“We are dealing with real issues and real problems,” said Knox White, who said he had reached out to people on both sides of the rent control issue. “To deal with a problem, you have to define the problem. I know there are concerns, but I didn’t see anybody say they’re not willing to do this in a reasonable way.”
Housing advocates asked the board in February to include plans to draft a rent control ordinance in the new housing element, igniting a firestorm of opposition from local landlords and the real estate community. Advocates with Renewed Hope – who supported the task force proposal Monday – have been distributing a survey seeking to quantify the travails of renters, who make up a little more than half of Alameda’s residents.
But local real estate agents and landlords oppose rent controls, with some landlords saying they would stunt investment in local properties and impacts landlords with fewer properties who are trying to bring in enough money to maintain them properly.
Renters detailed the difficulties they’ve faced in finding a place to live and keeping it as landlords raised rents. Apartments in the Bay Area are reportedly reaching record rents, in what was already one of the most expensive areas of the country.
“I can assure you that renters are very frightened,” said Doyle Saylor. “If you talk to anyone on the streets, they’re afraid of being pushed out of Alameda. It feels like a crisis.”
Lisa Hall said she struggled to find an apartment for herself and her daughter after losing her job and her home, in 2012. She said she found a small place after her adult son also agreed to move in and the family paid first and last month’s rent and a $2,000 deposit; 14 months later the family’s rent was raised $100 a month.
“I love this town, and I grew up in it. And I know many people like me don’t want to leave and move somewhere else just because they can’t pay rent,” Hall said.
Catherine Johnson said she recently received several hundreds of dollars in rent increases after eight and a half years in the same place – increases that could force Johnson off the Island and shutter the home day care business she runs here. She said her landlord doesn’t have a mortgage to pay on the building and that it needs numerous repairs.
“As I see it, he is just lining his pockets with my hard-earned money,” Johnson said.
Karen Bey, who said she’s been a landlord for 30 years, said she takes those kinds of remarks personally. Bey, who noted that the city hasn’t built any multifamily housing for decades – a result of Alameda’s Measure A – said she thinks the city needs to work harder to build more housing in order to reduce demand on the existing supply.
“We’re struggling to take care of our properties and pay our expenses. It might look like one thing, but it’s not always the case,” Bey said. “It feels like people want to shift the burden of this housing affordability on the backs of small business. It’s just not fair.”
Lori Moe, a homeowner who owns a pair of triplexes on the Island, said rent controls will drive away investors seeking to buy or improve property here.
“We chose Alameda because it does give people like us the incentive to provide safe, updated places,” Moe said.
Planning Board member Danya Alvarez Morroni said she didn’t think the city should put together a task force; Morroni, a former president of the Alameda Association of Realtors, said community members should lead the discussion about rent controls and bring their suggestions back to city leaders.
“I’m concerned about creating another committee. It’s another committee that’s going to have to be regulated, and we don’t have any funding for it,” said Alvarez Morroni, who said rising rents are a regional issue.
But Planning Board president David Burton said concerns over rising rents need to be dealt with sooner rather than later. And he said including the task force in the housing element would provide a better guarantee that it would be created than offering it to the council as a separate proposal, as other board members proposed.
“We have an immediate problem – half of our citizens. And they are just as equally our citizens as people who own their houses, and we should be respectful of that,” Burton said.
Board members took pains to make sure the council knows they all supported the proposed housing element minus the task force. The housing blueprint lists the city’s housing priorities for the next seven years and details how its policies will support development of 1,723 new homes.
The draft calls for improving the city’s supply of affordable housing for low and middle income residents and for creating transit- and environmentally friendly homes, and also, adding senior housing. If approved as written by the council, the city would also draft and present an annual report detailing the city’s progress on meeting its housing goals.
City staffers didn’t add any new properties to their existing inventory of sites where homes might be built; the list still doesn’t include Alameda Point, even though the city is seeking out developers who may build 800 new homes there. But they did remove properties where potential developments have been disputed, including the Neptune Pointe site by Crab Cove – a decision that prompted an attorney for the East Bay Regional Park District, which wants the property, to write the city asking staff there to undo its 2012 decision to allow homes there.
That decision prompted the park district to file a suit against the city that threatens to undo its first state-approved housing plan in decades. The current plan, okayed by the City Council and the state in 2012, placed a “multifamily overlay” on 10 properties where housing development is anticipated – sidestepping Measure A, which prohibits such development.
The city also faced criticism for sending the housing plan to the state before releasing it to the public for its input – from the state agency that is being asked to approve the plan.
“The element indicates the draft was made available to the public and the City is in constant contact with housing advocates and providers. However, the Department understands the draft element was not made available to the public until submittal to the Department, significantly hampering the public’s input in the development of the document,” state Housing and Community Development officials wrote in an April 25 letter to City Planner Andrew Thomas.
Related: Housing advocates seek rent control