Housing

Come to the Rent Board Meetings

Thanks to the efforts of the RPA and our allies we now have rent control and ‘just cause’ eviction in Richmond. The new 5-member Rent Board began work in April setting up what is, in essence, a housing court system. We approved a budget and hired a super-qualified Executive Director, Nicolas Traylor, who is a Richmond resident.

The Rent Board approved, and the City Council approved, a maximum rent increase limit, for rent-controlled units, of 3.4% for 2016 and 2017.


And we assessed a very reasonable fee of $97 per unit per year for those landlords subject to ‘just cause,’ saving many landlords money in the long run as they won’t need an attorney to evict a bad tenant.


But more hard work is ahead in the coming months. As the only tenant on the Rent Board, I need your voice. The Rent Board will be voting on these important issues that will decide the balance of power between landlords and tenants:


Banking
in August: ‘Banking’ is defined as the ability of rental property owner to raise the rent up to the “Maximum Allowable Rent” level after deferring past cost-of-living increases. In other words, if the landlords do not take the cost-of-living rent increase that they would have otherwise had a right to take, can they “bank” the increase and add it on to the rent in later years? Should it be allowed? Should there be limits?


Pass-Through
in September: Can landlords pass along some of the $97 annual fee to tenants? Many of the rent control programs in California allow half of the fee to be passed along to tenants. Who can better afford the fee? Who will make most use of the Rent Board?


Capital Improvements
in October:  Under what conditions can landlords raise rents to pay for capital improvements to the property? Where is the balance between keeping up the housing stock and losing affordable housing? This is an extremely complex regulatory question that will likely require a special session of the Rent Board.

If you care about one or more of these issues, please attend Rent Board meetings and speak during the public comment period. The Rent Board meets in the City Council Chambers on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 4 P.M. (except the August, 2017 meeting has been moved to the 4th Wednesday, August 23rd). Here are the current meeting dates:

Wednesday, August 23rd
Wednesday, September 20th
Wednesday, October 18th


For more information about on the meeting agenda and any schedule changes check out the City of Richmond Rent Board web page.

State Legislature to Vote on Affordable Housing

Earlier this month, the Governor and Leadership came together to announce their commitment to a package that included urgently needed affordable housing funding.


The Building Homes and Jobs Act (SB 2) was introduced by Senator Atkins (D-San Diego) to establish a permanent source of funding for affordable housing by imposing a $75 fee on real estate transaction documents, excluding residential and commercial property sales. It will build safe and affordable apartments and single-family homes for Californians in need, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state investment and leverage significant additional funding in federal, local, and private investment.


The Affordable Housing Bond Act (SB 3) was introduced by Senator Beall (D-South Bay/Silicon Valley) and gives voters the opportunity to authorize an affordable housing bond at the November 2018 ballot to create more affordable housing across the state. The programs in this bond specifically fund construction, rehabilitation, and preservation of housing for those at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness and low-income earners, as well as create more homeownership opportunities for low and moderate-income earners. Polling shows that voters support increasing SB 3’s investment in our communities, with a $6 – $9 billion bond.


While Californians across the state have demonstrated strong support for action and many lawmakers agree that our state must tackle our housing crisis, these bills require a 2/3 majority vote -- a challenging threshold, no matter the issue.

Now is the time to make sure your voice has been heard. The Nonprofit Housing Association has made this easy online form, so that you can email, tweet, or send a Facebook message directly to your Assemblymember.

Rent Board Making Progress

There are a lot of details and much work required to get a new program going.  I am pleased to say that the Board and the City staff have been working well together and we are making progress.

  • Interviewing candidates for Executive Director of the Board.
  • Approving the expense side of our budget (completed last meeting).
  • Working on the revenue side—proposing the fee that landlords will pay to support the program (to be voted on by the City Council).
  • Establishing the 2017 maximum Annual Adjustment for Rents for tenancies prior to September 2016.

The Rent Control Ordinance can be found here.

Landlords Drop Lawsuit Against Richmond Rent Control

On May 5, the California Apartment Association announced that it was suspending its lawsuit against Richmond for the city’s rent control and just cause for eviction ordinance, Measure L.

This is the (hopefully) marks the end of the CAA’s years-long effort to quash rent control in Richmond.

After the Richmond City Council passed rent control in 2015, the California Apartment Association launched a signature gathering effort in which they misled voters into thinking they were supporting rent control by signing the CAA petition. Fair and Affordable Richmond mounted a robust counter-effort, and last fall won a major victory when Measure L passed with a whopping 64.4% of the vote.

Congratulations, Tenants Together, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Richmond Progressive Alliance, SEIU Local 1021, Mountain View Tenants Coalition, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Stanford Community Law Clinic, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Dan Harper, Aimee Inglis, Eduardo Torres, Gayle McLaughlin, Marilyn Langlois, Mike Parker, Daniel DeBolt, Daniel Saver, Gabriel Haaland, Zak Wear, Melissa Morris, Juliet Brodie, Melvin Willis, Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, and so many more amazing folks that led the fight for the first new rent control ordinances in 3 decades, which are now in effect, reducing rents, protecting against evictions, stabilizing communities, and inspiring other cities to take bold action.

Thanks to Dean Preston for contributing.

Rent Control Resources

Fair and Affordable Richmond is a coalition of Richmond individuals and organizations who worked together to pass Measure L, for rent control and just-cause evictions, in 2016.

The Richmond Rent Program has information for landlords and renters about rent control.

 

We Have a New Rent Board!

On Tuesday, March 21, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to appoint a 5-member rent board. This board will be responsible for implementing rent control: setting a budget for the Richmond Rent Program, hiring an Executive Director and setting regulations.

The newly appointed members include Nancy Combs, a volunteer at Saffron Strand; real estate agent Virginia Finlay, former president of the Marina Bay Neighborhood Council and former Richmond Planning Commissioner; Emma Gerould, a former tenant advocate in the San Francisco Tenderloin; Lauren Maddock, an employee of Mercy Housing; and David Gray, former chief of staff to Mayor Butt who is currently with the San Francisco Public Utility Commission.

Mayor Butt does not support rent control, but after Measure L passed, he was given the authority to name Board members. Given that 2/3 of Richmond voters supported Measure L, the RPA vigorously advocated for at least three of the five members of the Board to be strong rent control proponents. As Cecilia Cissell Lucas and Jeff Shoji said at the March 7 Richmond City Council meeting, "We deserve a transparent process in which rent board appointees are publicly vetted and approved by those who actually support Measure L… This should not feel threatening to anyone who is not attempting to obstruct the fair and legal enforcement of an ordinance that passed with a vast majority of the vote. It's time to listen to the will of the people." Unfortunately, only two of the 5 members of the rent board are strong rent control supporters.

A statement from an RPA subcommittee (the RPA reps to the Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition) explained its reasoning for agreeing to a compromise: They became convinced "that the rent board slate presented by Mayor Butt on March 21 is the best we can get from him, and it certainly could be worse. So, faced with the choice of a less than optimal rent board or no rent board at all for the remainder of his term as mayor, the Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition (of which the RPA is a member) decided to support this slate and move forward with implementation as best we can."

Onward in the struggle for housing justice!

New Ordinance Protects Renters Rights to Organize

One feature of the new rent control law is that it protects the right of tenants to organize together.  The law provides that:

  • Tenants have the right to organize. It is illegal for landlords to retaliate;
  • Landlords must recognize and deal with an organization designated by the tenant as the representative of the tenant;
  • Tenants organizations have standing before the Rent Board.

These provisions apply to building-based tenants organizations, landlord-based tenants organizations (that may include tenants from multiple buildings owned by a single landlord), or to long-standing tenants organizations like Tenants Together.

Why is this so important?  Even though the new law protects tenants and gives them new rights, landlords typically still have much more power than individual tenants.  Landlords usually have an edge in knowledge, legal support, and resources to engage in prolonged legal disputes.  It is easier for a landlord to win in court even when the facts point the other way.  Often the only way to successfully take on a bad landlord is by organizing together, pooling resources for legal help, and bringing public and political pressure on landlords to settle. Rights are fine, but you have to organize and take action to make them real.

Lessons from the Ghost Ship Fire

Here are four observations for the City as it contemplates how to respond in the wake of Oakland's Ghost Ship fire.

1.  When there is not a sufficient supply of cheap housing or when wages are not sufficient to support what housing is available, it is predictable that many will become homeless and others will look for inexpensive ways to live -- often in buildings not really suitable or safe for housing.  The campaigns we have had in Richmond to develop more affordable housing and protect the affordability of the housing we have through rent control are critical first steps -- but we need much more.

2. Young people need and will find venues to engage in social and artistic activities.  Ghost Ship provided something more than just cheap places for living -- a supportive community culture.  We must develop more inexpensive venues for holding events and exhibitions.

3.  We need better, more effective, and fairer enforcement of local safety requirements. A flurry of "cover-your-ass" activities after disasters like Ghost Ship are not a substitute for a regular enforcement program that helps people meet safety requirements. Simply closing a place and making people homeless transfers a problem without solving it. And we must develop ways to help people stay in their places or continue their work while improvements are made.

A knee-jerk reaction to greatly increase the number of inspectors is not the answer.  First, it is expensive and will take funds away from other needed city services. Second, when tenants fear retaliation from a landlord or fear that they will lose their housing if an inspector finds code violations, their refusal to open doors, cooperate, or report violations makes inspection programs ineffective.

4. The key to tenant safety is most of all tenant involvement: tenants knowing and demanding removal of dangerous living conditions; tenants reporting landlords who maintain unsafe housing conditions.  One of the important features of the recently adopted rent control ballot measure helps make this possible.  The new law prohibits landlords from evicting or otherwise penalizing any tenant who reports safety problems or demands that landlords correct dangerous conditions.  It also protects tenants who are forced to leave because a landlord has not complied with building codes.  Whether or not the landlord is operating legally, the landlord is still subject to providing relocation assistance in these cases.