Richmond City Council to consider rent control proposal at meeting

Bay City News
Tuesday, July 7, 2015

RICHMOND, Calif. -- Following a lengthy and somewhat contentious meeting in June, the Richmond City Council will resume a discussion Tuesday night about implementing rent control in the city.

City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said Richmond is growing and becoming a more desirable place where people want to live, but that increased demand is putting pressure on the existing housing stock.

"We're hearing from so many renters that, 'Hey, my rent is going up incredibly and it's not fair and we can't afford it and if we can't afford it, where are we going to go?'" Beckles said.

Councilor Eduardo Martinez pointed to the economic recession of 2008 and the housing bubble that burst as precipitating the current shortage in rental housing.

"The fallout is that a lot of families lost their homes and were forced into rentals," Martinez said. "Now these people are actually finding themselves having to move elsewhere because rental properties are so expensive."

Both Martinez and Beckles are sponsoring a moratorium on landlords raising rent before the city can implement a rent control policy, though the council is not likely to vote on a final proposal until later this month at the earliest.

Not everyone on the council supports the idea. Mayor Tom Butt pointed to San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, each of which has a rent control policy, as examples of cities where rent control has not been able to stymie rising rents.

A study by online real estate portal Zumper from August 2014 found San Francisco, which implemented rent control in 1979, had the highest median rents for one-bedroom apartments in the country.

"All of (those cities) have huge rent crises and rent control has not worked to keep rents low," Butt said. "The question I always ask is why you would want to emulate failures."

Rather than allow for artificially low rents, Butt said the city should be doing everything it can to encourage the development of more housing, and in particular, more affordable housing to satiate the heightened demand.

"A city needs to provide adequate housing for people at every income range," Butt said, adding that in Richmond, the city's inclusionary housing ordinance requires 15 percent of any new market rate housing development to be set aside as affordable.

At a June 23 council meeting, City Manager Bill Lindsay presented four options for the council to consider regarding rent control, including enhancing monitoring and community education, implementing a standalone "just cause for eviction" ordinance, creating a rent mediation board, or implementing rent control and passing a "just cause for eviction" ordinance together.

The council directed him to draft proposals to implement a rent control board, rent control and a just cause for eviction policy. Under the proposal, the fees to implement the board and the rent control policies would be paid for by owners of rental property.

According to data provided by Lindsay, roughly 55 percent of renters "overpay," or pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, compared to 39 percent of homeowners in Richmond.

But Lindsay also said there is an income disparity between renters who overpay compared to homeowners who overpay. He said 40 percent of renters who pay more than 30 percent of their income towards housing make less than $20,000 per year. The largest proportion of homeowners who overpay make $75,000 or more, he said.

Renters occupy roughly 48 percent of Richmond's housing stock, Lindsay said. Of those, state law exempts single-family homes and housing built after 1995 from rent control policies.

Martinez said that even if the measure doesn't help everyone facing rising rents, it would help some people.

"I realize it doesn't help everyone and it doesn't help enough people, but I guess we could thank the state Assembly for creating that situation," he said. "If we can help as many people as possible, we need to help as many people as possible."

Tuesday's meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at 440 Civic Center Plaza.