When El Cerrito adopted the El Cerrito Affordable Housing Strategy the staff identified four pillars to address affordable housing needs. The Community Workshop (above) emerges from staff’s research to address the second pillar: Reduce the Risk of Displacement and Stabilize At-Risk Populations. In other words, mitigate gentrification as the region grows in this next decade and protect those renters who are on fixed, low or middle incomes and paying over 50% of their income in rent.
In early November, City Staff hastily organized a Community Workshop on Tenant Protections. It was no surprise that only a hand full of tenants attended, matched by a similar number of landlords. The majority of those in attendance were members of El Cerrito Progressives, including tenants and allies. We learned that non-binding rent mediation anchored the proposal for tenant protections. Also known as the Rent Review Program, once implemented, the tenants and landlords sit down together when there is disagreement on rental terms. Sounds good? Let’s say the mediator decides that the tenant has a case and that the 20% rent increase is unwarranted, that would be a victory for the tenant, right? Wrong. The mediation is non-binding and the landlord can ignore the mediator’s decision. According to Carol Lamont, previous Housing Director for the City of Fremont, and the developer of a rent mediation program for the City of Fremont:
The best the mediation process offered was additional time for tenants to move out before a rent increase that they could not afford went into effect. Now I have been told by one of the mediators, who is a long time resident, that Fremont’s ordinance is useless, and that it reflects poorly on the City.
Many members of the audience urged staff not to put forward the Rent Review Program. Audience members cited poor evaluation reports of similar programs from San Leandro and Concord as well as Fremont, all pointing to the weaknesses of non-binding resolution. Even landlords spoke up against the program, but for obvious different reasons.
But most voices were muted, and continue to be muted over the call for a Rent Review Program. The Rent Review Program will be heard by the City Council on December 18th, when our local officials make decisions on tenant protections. Tenants and homeowners continue to be concerned that the protections being suggested will be too little too late. But there can be an alternative or additional course of action.
When the Human Relations Commission met in September of this year, Commissioner Makalia Aga raised the issue of a moratorium on rent increases and help with eviction. As a long time resident, senior citizen and renter, she faces a 20% rent increase in the next few months, and worries about her future in El Cerrito. Members of the Commission took up the banner and returned the following October to present a strongly worded resolution recommending that the City Council adopt an anti-gouging measure and just-cause eviction ordinance to protect tenants. They voted in the majority to bring the resolution to the City Council for the November agenda. So where is that resolution and why does it not appear on the November Agenda?
El Cerrito Progressives and other concerned residents will be at the meeting on Tuesday, November 20th to ask that question, and hopefully reset the volume so that tenants can truly get some needed protections. (BTW – we know there are good landlords and encourage you to join us !)