Monday, January 4, 2016

Alameda City Council's decision on rent ordinance could be pivot point for issue

Tenants at 470 Central Avenue in Alameda, which
became the epicenter of the city's rent crisis last year.
ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | With Alameda’s 65-day moratorium on rent increases and evictions set to expire next week, the City Council will begin the New Year seeking a permanent ordinance to slow the housing crisis. Tuesday night’s debate over three potential ordinances could also set the course for whether the issue of rent control in Alameda continues to be the city’s most pressing political question this year.

Council members may choose between three potential ordinances or decide to buy additional time to study the issue and extend the existing moratorium approved Nov. 5 by another 60 days.

The set of solutions offered by city staff feature an ordinance likely supported by landlords requiring property owners seeking raise rents more than eight percent to petition the existing Rent Review Advisory Committee (RRAC). The proposal prohibits owners from raising rents more than once within a calendar year. Landlord groups and property owners in Alameda have shown strong support for giving time for recent changes to the RRAC to take hold.

A far more ambition proposal like amendable to renters would put the onus on property owners to provide evidence to a third party for raising rents above the eight percent threshold and the hearing officer’s decision would be binding and subject to appeal. However, such program will need further city funding.

If the rent stabilization option is chosen by the council, city staff is recommending the allocation $250,000 from the general fund for the housing authority staff to administer the new program through the fiscal year ending in June. An additional $50,000 is recommended for studying a potential fee on landlords to cover the program's costs going forward.  Evictions without cause would also be barred under the proposal.

A possible benefit of approving the renter-friendly ordinance, City Hall sources say, would be its potential to act a pressure release valve for Island renters strongly urging for a far more comprehensive rent control ballot measure next fall. However, it is unclear whether the Alameda Renters Coalition will accept an ordinance that features an eight percent threshold for rent increases—a figure it believes is already too high for struggling Island tenants who make up more than half of the population.

Another proposal, which knits together attributes from the first two could be viewed as the council’s avenue toward a compromise solution to the rent crisis. Known as “Ordinance 2,” it includes specific elements of the landlord-friendly ordinance, such as a focus on utilizing the RRAC to settle disputes, along with elements of the renter-friendly version such as requiring property owners to provide evidence for the need to raise rents above eight percent.

Overall, each proposal contains stipulations for relocation assistance for tenants evicted with no cause for each year of tenancy up to four years and including $1,500 for moving expenses. The inclusion of relocation fees had been expected after Councilmember Tony Daysog, one of the more moderate members of the council, expressed strong support for it last month.

In addition, all three proposals note any determination made by the RRAC will continue to be non-binding and assesses a $10,000 per violation fine against property owners who violate the ordinance. Each also sets a sunset date of Dec. 31, 2019 to allow a future council to make changes to the ordinance or allow it to expire.

The rent issue has undoubtedly become one of the most high-profile discussions in recent Alameda history. To facilitate an expected large crowd Tuesday night’s council meeting was moved to nearby Kofman Auditorium at Alameda High School. An overflow crowd of residents attending the Nov. 4 meeting for a 65-day moratorium on rent increases up to eight percent and no evictions resulted in two arrests, including one person nose bloodied by police. An increase police presence is expected Tuesday.


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